Horses can be drugged to increase speed, prevent fatigue, extend endurance and promote muscle growth, which are prohibited. The most widespread performance-enhancing drugs are usually anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, “milkshakes”, stimulants and other drug combinations. This is called doping.
Now, all the time, is Performance Enhancing Drugs Illegal in Horse Racing?
Some drugs are legal at certain doses.
However, the Australian Rules of Racing has made the horse racing drug regulations clear: performance-enhancing drugs fall into the class of ‘Prohibited Substance’.
The general rule is, all horses to race must be free from any performance-enhancing drugs on race day.
Subject to AR.177C, any horse that has been brought to a racecourse and a prohibited substance is detected in any sample taken from it prior to or following its running in any race must be disqualified from any race in which it started on that day.
Got more questions?
Probably a lot.
Which is why we’ll try to answer as much as we can here. Hold tight and read on.
Always be on the safe side.
What does “Prohibited Substances” mean in horse racing drug regulations?
Any substance is prohibited if it’s likely to have had any direct and/or indirect effect on the horse at the time of the race.
What does “Doping” in Horses mean?
According to Racing Victoria doping is the administration of drugs/prohibited substance to manipulate the racing performance of a horse.
Doping may attempt to:
- Improve the athletic performance of horse by stimulating the nervous or musculoskeletal system
- Depress the performance of a horse to get it beaten in a race or enhance a horse’s physiological response to training (anabolic steroids, blood building drugs, and others)
- Mask the signs of pain and inflammation or the symptoms of disease so that a sore or unwell horse can get to the races and perform better than it would without the benefit of medication
How common is performance-enhancing drugs in horseracing?
In America, “Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,” commented one reporter.
One study says it’s a practice that dates back as far as 3,000 years ago.
Performance enhancing drugs—for either humans or horses—may seem like a norm.
On the contrary, Australian Trainers’ Association chief executive Andrew Nicholl claims the doping rate in Australia is below the global average.
“The rate of positive results to tests performed for the thoroughbred industry is no greater than 0.5 per cent across the major worldwide racing jurisdictions, which includes leaders like the UK, France, Singapore and Hong Kong. Victoria is well under this rate at their current level of 0.3 per cent.”
With this, few would even dare to ask: is performance enhancing drugs illegal in horse racing?
The answer is obvious.
What are the illegal drugs commonly used in racing?
The list is over 2,000 long worldwide. Innovative tricks can range from tranquilizers to modify behavior in horses; bronchodilators to dilate the airways; drugs like EPO, cobalt, which also increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
Then there are drugs as anabolic steroids for making horses run faster and more powerful beyond the race track. “Milkshaking or doping horses with sodium bicarbonate is also reported to increase stamina. Pain suppressants are another quirks to “numb” any pain.
As of January 2018, the complete list of prohibited substances can be accessed from Racing Australia’s comprehensive rules of racing.
Is Performance Enhancing Drugs Illegal in Horse Racing? What’s the penalty?
Subject to AR.177B,
(a) The trainer and any other person who was in charge of such horse at the relevant time may be penalized unless he satisfies the Stewards that he had taken all proper precautions to prevent the administration of such prohibited substance.
(b) The horse may be disqualified from any race in which it has competed subsequent to the taking of such a sample where, in the opinion of the Stewards, the prohibited substance was likely to have had any direct and/or indirect effect on the horse at the time of the race.
Those found guilty of doping horses face fines and disqualification from racing.
Anyone suspended cannot associate with other horsemen—jockeys, trainers, or even enter stables and racetracks.
The amount of penalty and length of suspension depends on the severity of the case.
How is testing done for performance-enhancing drugs in race horses?
According to the Racing Analytical Services ltd (RASL)—a globally accredited independent laboratory—Australian rules of racing prohibit the use of any performance enhancing drugs on race day.
RASL analyzes post-urine race or blood samples from horses. Out-of-competition testing is also done to ensure a drug-free training.
Samples from trainers or vets will not be tested, only those collected directly by the independent lab expert such as RASL as advised by the racing authority.
Is a positive drug test possible for honest trainers/horsemen?
Unfortunately, yes, in some cases. Some banned substances are inherently found in nature. For example, some plant-based ingredients in feeds, supplements, therapeutic drugs and other “natural products may contain opium, morphine, and heroin, which can be found in plants,
What are the different types of Performance Enhancing Drugs?
While there are many classifications of a banned substance, performance-enhancing drugs generally fall into these types:
- Tranquilizers/Sedatives/Muscle relaxants
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Narcotic Analgesics –
- Anabolic Steroids
You may also like: The 4 Best Horse Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.
Illegal Drugs Used in Horse Racing
Is Performance Enhancing Drugs Illegal in Horse Racing?
With so much money on the line, some people are looking for an edge.
In illegal cases, these include the use of performance enhancing drugs. Let’s break down the most common types and which can really make horses run faster.
Hurray for coffee lover and neigh for horses. As an illegal performance enhancing drug, caffeine is classified as a “stimulant”.
This gives the nervous system a jolt, pumping up the beast inside in action and increasing alertness in horses.
By speeding up parts of the brain and the body the result may be enhanced speed and overall performance.
Widely sourced (from tea, chocolate, Guarana) Caffeine is a popular stimulant for humans. But not for horses. One study found that intravenous administration of caffeine resulted in:
• Faster speeds with increased heart rate beats of 180 to 200 per minute in horses
• Improved endurance in short intense activity
• Reduced fatigue
Example of use
In 2015, John Lutrell, trainer of racehorse Geegees Blackflash, was disqualified from training for six months.
The Tasmanian Cup King was found guilty of administering caffeine to horse Testa Gegee, with lab tests confirming samples from the horse were positive for caffeine and its metabolites.
2. Elephant Juice (Etorphine)
Etorphine is supposed to be a sedative since it’s been widely used in veterinary practice as a tranquilizer. It’s popularly known as elephant juice for its power to tranquilize large circus animals, an elephant, for instance.
But used in the right dose, it can be used as a “stimulant” to condition the horse to relax and run its best.
It works, but it’s deadly.
In humans, a drop of veterinary-strength etorphine on the skin can cause death, in minutes. In horses, it takes little to do maximum damage as well. It’s that potent.
Example of use
There have been documented cases but perhaps none is more popular in Australian horseracing than the case of Rocket Racer.
The horse ran and won in the 1987 Perth Cup Winner. He tested positive for elephant juice. It was believed that he died thereafter in unknown circumstances.
Either way, trainer George Way was disqualified for 20 years after being found guilty of using the stimulant to two more of his horses.
3. Sodium Bicarbonate aka “milk shake”
With a mixture of baking soda, sugar, and water, horses get a “milkshake”.
It’s not a drug but nevertheless a prohibited substance. This concoction can enhance performance by slowing the build-up of lactic acid.
That’s because, in every high-intensity performance, lactic acid build-up causes fatigue. Milkshakes make the blood and muscle tissue less acidic so the horse can run faster and farther, less the fatigue. It is given via a nasal tube.
It’s worth noting that sodium bicarbonate itself isn’t harmful to the horse in acceptable doses. In fact, it’s legal to give outside of race day, if swabbing will not be involved in the next 24 hours.
But too much and a horse can get diarrhea. At the right amount, it can help speed up recovery among overly worked out horses.
Example of use
Just this year, Australian horseracing was disgraced by the Aquanita scandal were eight people were charged with doping.
At least five trainers and three stablehands were charged with giving horses sodium bicarbonate and vicks vapor rub before a race, in more than one hundred occasions.
Commentators are calling this “biggest scandal and the most widespread investigation in the history of Australian racing”.
4. Propantheline Bromide (Blue Magic)
Normally, this drug is used by vets to dilate the lungs of asthmatic horses. Other uses include treatment for ulcers or to relax the muscles in mares for rectal examination.
In racehorses, this drug is given by feed or by injection. Blue Magic used to be a go-to drug in 2004 to relax the muscles in order to increase blood flow in horses. Without medical purpose, that “edge” makes this drug illegal.
There have been no known serious side effects of the drug in horses.
Example of use
Rod Weightman was disqualified for more than five years after Racing Victoria found the harness racing trainer guilty of giving blue magic to his horses.
5. Erythropoietin (EPO)
EPO belongs to the group of “blood dopers”. It’s the drug that became popular in sports due to Lance Armstrong.
What it does is basically increase the number of red blood cells. This means more oxygen gets ferried into the system for increased stamina and performance.
Too much EPO levels injected to a horse has been known to thicken the blood which may result in clotting, heart attack, and stroke. Repeated doses of EPO can also result in anemia which makes this drug more of a risk than performance enhancing.
Example of use
Racing Victoria claims of good screening test for this illegal performance-enhancing drug. Positive cases are rare. The first and last known publicized scandal was in 2010.
Victorian trainer Richard Laming was disqualified for three years after being found guilty of administering the drug Darbopoetin Alfa, a synthetic form of erythropoietin (EPO) to horses in 2009.
Cobalt isn’t supposed to be an illegal drug. After all, it’s naturally found in horses.
It’s, in fact, an essential trace element in the body and an ingredient commonly found in feed stuffs.
But research in the 1940’s found that in larger, regular doses, cobalt has blood-doping qualities and could increase endurance, reduce recovery and enhance performance.
When given in horses via powder mix or injection, it could allow them to race at peak levels.
On April 14, 2014, Racing Victoria released a threshold for Cobalt. Trainers of horses with greater than 200 micrograms per litre in their urine will be sanctioned.
A study found that intravenous administration of cobalt to horses result in heart problems.
Other severe side effects include damages to the thyroid, nerves, and blood thickening.
Example of use
In 2015, it was no other than Black Caviar’s trainer, Peter Moody who got entangled in Australia’s cobalt scandal.
Melbourne Cup winner Mark Kavanagh, Danny O’Brien and Tom Brennan were respectively banned after six horses were found positive for illegal cobalt amounts.
Peter Moody resigned from training horses, thereafter.
Performance Enhancing Drugs: Nobody Wins
Is performance-enhancing drugs in illegal in horse racing? Since it’s obviously a yes, the more important question is why?
Two arguments: first it gives unfair advantage to some hardworking and honest trainers and horses. Second is the health risks involved in doping the animal.
As with any sport, the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs among horses could tarnish the reputation of the once mighty and beloved racing industry.
Racing success should be about power, endurance and speed. Not steroids.
Most importantly, in Australian racetracks, one horse dies in every three days. No one can ever ask a horse if it’s worth the risk.