Mistakes rather than foul play cause most positive drugs tests *H&H Plus*

  • H&H has been reporting for some time on contamination causing positive dope tests. Recent research looked at the causes of positive tests in racing and FEI competition, and what could be done to prevent such incidents

    THE vast majority of positive dope tests in racing and FEI competition are not deliberate “foul play” but the result of mistakes with withdrawal time, contamination or human error.

    The findings of research into positive equine samples taken over the past five years, in British and Irish racing and all FEI disciplines, were revealed at a webinar on 30 June.

    Kevin Corley, director and founder of specialist app EquiTrace, and a specialist in equine internal medicine and critical care, spoke about methods to reduce error in medicating competition horses.

    “We’ve all seen the headlines, unfortunately, and they’re not only damaging to the trainers involved, they’re damaging to the vets, the owners, the jockeys, and the sport we all love,” he said. “But when we look behind the headlines, it’s often not people being malicious or trying to cheat, it’s often ignorance or simple human error, but someone trying to cheat gets treated exactly the same way.

    “So how can we prevent this?”

    Mr Corley said that in five years, there were 109 positive samples in racing. Of these, 51% were caused by a too-short withdrawal time, 10% were after the wrong horse had been given medication, 14% were down to human contamination, such as urinating in stables, 8% were environmental factors, and 13% were “other”; unknown cause or a one-off situation.

    “Only 4% were someone trying to do something wrong,” he said, adding that this included disgruntled jockeys or trainers trying to frame others. “The vast majority were simple mistakes.”

    In FEI competition, 40% of the last 100 cases that went to the Tribunal were caused by a too-short withdrawal time. 17% were a result of ignorance, such as the rider not realising something contained a banned substance, and 23% environmental. In 10 cases, the rider did not give an explanation, 8% were human contamination, 1% were the wrong horse and 1% forgot the drug had been given.

    Mr Corley spoke of the need for accurate records and strict protocols to avoid the “wrong horse” situations, and other common pitfalls such as drugs sold under very similar names, or the same name in different countries but that contain different and banned ingredients. He referred to humans taking antihistamines, or using hair-growth products that have contaminated horses and led to positive tests.

    “It’s not possible to be completely safe,” he said. “There can always be some strange physiology or similar that causes a horse to metabolise a drug more slowly, but we’re trying to move the bar so it’s only extreme outliers that test positive by accident.

    “Most of the time, by eliminating human error, and putting the right systems in place, you can reduce the chance of a positive test.”

    EquiTrace uses microchip numbers to keep full records of horses’ medication, and can trace their movements.

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