Racing Victoria dismisses EPO allegations

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Racing Victoria’s Integrity manager Dayle Brown says there is a “robust and active” testing regime in place for the drug EPO. 

Racing Victoria has strongly denied allegations made by the Melbourne-based Sunday Herald Sun newspaper over the use of the performance-enhancing drug, Erythropoietin (EPO), in the thoroughbred industry.

The denial came from Racing Victoria’s general manager of integrity, Dayle Brown, who defended the state racing body’s record on drugs.

The newspaper alleged that use of the drug – the purported drug of choice for disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong – was widespread in Australian racing

Brown said: “We have a robust and active testing regime in place for both EPO and opiate-based stimulants and there is no evidence to indicate the systematic use of either within this state.

“Indeed, the Sunday Herald Sun articles gave little account to the drug-testing regime currently in place in Victoria, in particular for EPO, and lacked substance when it came to evidence of the purported widespread drug use.

“We would be naive to think that people haven’t and won’t push the boundaries to achieve an optimum result, but to suggest that EPO use is widespread is inappropriate given the evidence at hand and the testing in place.

“I would encourage those unnamed trainers that are quoted within the articles to raise their concerns with the integrity department and if they have evidence, to produce it and we will investigate accordingly.”

Brown has also labelled as ridiculous allegations that high profile trainers are not targeted for testing to ensure no bad publicity is afforded the industry if a positive swab is detected.

A total of 3298 samples were collected from horses prepared by the top 10 Victorian trainers during the 2011-12 racing season, a figure representing half of all starters from those stables.

“The allegation that our drug-testing regime is structured to minimise impact and distort statistics could not be further from the truth.

“The state’s premier trainers are indeed those most tested because they have greater starter numbers and are winning more races,” Brown said.

“Our drug-testing strategies are wide and varied, encompassing out-of-competition and raceday testing. Those strategies involve random testing across a broad spectrum of trainers and scenarios and target testing based on intelligence and performance.

“One of the key platforms of our program is deterrence and thus any positive swab, be it from a large or small stable, serves as a very important public reminder for all participants that illegal drug use will not be tolerated in this sport.”

The structure of Erythropoietin (EPO).
The structure of Erythropoietin (EPO). © RCSB Protein Data Bank

More than 14,000 drug samples were taken from horses during the 2011-12 Victorian thoroughbred racing season, resulting in nine positive swabs.

“Each sample collected is screened for the presence of EPO, opiates and a wide range of their derivatives, yet there is no evidence of systematic use of either as has been alleged,” Brown said.

He said it was pertinent to note that Racing Analytical Services, the Victorian-based drug testing laboratory, now has a confirmatory test for EPO. “So we are well equipped in this state to detect and ultimately prosecute its use.”

In 2009, Racing Victoria’s integrity department worked closely with Harness Racing Victoria’s integrity department and Canada’s Ontario Racing Commission to develop out-of-competition testing strategies to detect EPO and its synthetic form, Darbepoetin Alfa.

Following the implementation of those strategies, Racing Analytical Services screened various blood samples, resulting in a number of thoroughbred and standardbred horses testing positive to EPO. These were successfully prosecuted in both codes.

“Since then, we have continued our regime of testing horses for the presence of EPO in its various forms and no positives to EPO or its derivatives have been detected,” Brown said.

Since the initial EPO detection in 2009, the testing laboratory has set up a Bioanalytical Research Unit, funded through a $A4 million contribution by the Victorian Coalition Government, and developed a confirmatory methodology for detecting EPO in equines, which is a first for any laboratory in Australia.

The development of a confirmatory test for EPO within Victoria means that ‘A’ samples no longer need to be sent abroad for testing after the lab’s initial screening test.



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