Kentucky, New York Move Toward Tougher Restrictions On Clenbuterol

Trainers in several states could soon contend with tougher restrictions on the administration of clenbuterol, a bronchodilator prescribed for respiratory issues which veterinarians say can be misused. At a Dec. 1 meeting of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC), committee members passed a proposed rule change for the drug which would move administration time from 14 days pre-race to 21 days pre-race, with a requirement the horse be tested for the substance before being cleared to run.

Clenbuterol is a beta-2 agonist which is known as an effective solution for horses battling respiratory ailments — a particularly common problem in racetrack barns which often have poor ventilation. Like other beta-2 agonists, however, it can also decrease body fat and increase muscle mass, particularly by converting slow twitch muscle to fast twitch muscle when used repeatedly.

At a September meeting of the EDRC, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission equine medical director Dr. Bruce Howard revealed that nearly 100 percent of Kentucky-based horses from trainers currently under federal indictment showed signs of clenbuterol administration when they were hair tested. Howard has also seen instances of veterinarians prescribing the drug to every horse in the barn.

The measure to move back the drug’s administration time was not without debate. Dr. Andy Roberts, member of the EDRC and longtime Standardbred veterinarian, raised concerns about the harness population’s ability to treat horses for illness under a 21-day withdrawal.

“I don’t want to diminish the concerns about clenbuterol, because I think it’s not illegitimate to want to control its administration to legitimate therapeutic purposes, however I think the Standardbreds are taking it quite strongly in the shorts in this because our horses race every week,” said Roberts. “There’s almost no opportunity to put horses on clenbuterol already. Several other states already recognize this and have shorter withdrawals on clenbuterol.”

Roberts asked Howard whether out-of-competition testing at Red Mile had detected any clenbuterol use thus far, and Howard said it had not.

“That’s because you’ve taken the drug out of my hands on a therapeutic basis,” said Roberts, who also maintained that the repartitioning effect of clenbuterol on muscle lasts for 11 days. “Passing rules based on speculation that somebody else is doing something — and I say this specifically from a Standardbred point of view because these horses are in to go often enough that you have already severely limited my ability to use this drug properly. People would rather leave horses sick and end up with pleural pneumonia than treat them with clenbuterol. That means we are over-regulating it.”

The 21-day window is based on the limit of detection by drug testing laboratories tasked with finding clenbuterol in a horse’s urine sample. Blood and urine tests would be used to clear a horse to race after clenbuterol administration. Hair samples would show clenbuterol administration for up to six to twelve months after administration, but are highly variable depending on hair growth rates.

All EDRC committee members except Roberts voted for the increased restriction.

The vote comes a day after commissioners in New York expressed an interest in restricting clenbuterol use there, too. The Daily Racing Form reported the New York State Gaming Commission voted to require veterinarians to seek permission from the equine medical director before administering the drug, and that horses receiving clenbuterol must pass drug tests showing it has cleared the system before being permitted to run. That is similar to rule language being considered in other Mid-Atlantic states. In Canada, clenbuterol administration was pushed out to 28 days pre-race earlier this year. The American Quarter Horse Association announced a zero tolerance policy on clenbuterol in 2014, which has subsequently been picked up by several states where Quarter Horse racing is a central part of the calendar.

Experts have raised concerns about the potential for clenbuterol abuse for years, but the drug has made more headlines this year, as influential trainers like Mark Casse have called it one of the “most abused drug in our industry.”

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