Equine biological passports a potential new tool in fight against illicit drug use

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An equine biological passport is being developed by researchers in the United States.

The aim of a biological passport is to monitor specific biomarkers in horses over time. Changes found in biomarkers in these blood samples can be used to identify a horse’s reaction to performance-enhancing drugs. It is an alternative to traditional drug testing.

The research program, backed by the Gluck Equine Research Foundation at the University of Kentucky, is expected to advance scientists’ understanding of the impact of drugs and medications on Thoroughbred racehorses.

Dr Scott Stanley, the director of the university’s Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, is central to the project. He says there have been too many negative headlines around drug use in recent years.

“As a research scientist, with 30 years of regulatory drug testing experience, my team and I know this is a problem we cannot currently solve.

“We know that it takes time to develop new tests for each new emerging drug, so we will always be behind. We know that each horse metabolizes drugs at a different rate, making standard clearance and withdrawal times confusing.

“In addition, we know that there are environmental factors, human interactions, and hundreds of other variables that can impact our current drug testing procedures.

“The equine biological passport program is a tool that will enable us to rapidly identify new drugs and measure the physiological effect on the equine athlete.”

The information gathered will be critical in differentiating between intentional doping and accidental contaminants, which can smear the industry’s image and damage reputations, he says.

Stonestreet Farm says it will contribute $US100,000 to the program, and encourages stakeholders, trainers and owners alike to consider making a tax-deductible gift.

The passport program is designed to expand and be flexible enough to address new challenges, such as bio-therapeutics.

It is hoped the initiative will provide scientific data needed to support changes in rules, and regulations that will allow those violating drug rules to be caught, and prevent at-risk horses from entering competitions.

The Jockey Club has also thrown its support behind the project.

Its executive vice-president and executive director, Matt Iuliano, says the program employs new analytical methods to detect the use of substances that evade traditional drug testing.

“Because these substances cannot be directly tested, they pose a significant risk to health, safety and integrity in our sport. The equine biological passport looks for changes in biomarkers which signal when a substance was administered.”

He describes the passport as a huge step in “rooting out cheaters.”

Gluck’s efforts would not be the first time the concept of a biological passport has been raised in racing.

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