By: Matt Hegarty
The West Virginia Racing Commission will begin pulling samples this week from horses pointing to the Aug. 6 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park as the first step in the state’s launch of an out-of-competition testing program, according to the commission’s executive director.
The commission intends to pull samples from 15 or 16 horses who are nominated to the $750,000 West Virginia Derby in the hopes of testing samples from at least half of the horses who eventually run in the race, Joe Moore, the commission’s executive director, said on Saturday. The commission also intends to pull samples from horses pointing to the $350,000 Charles Towns Oaks at Charles Town on Sept. 17 in the weeks ahead, Moore said.
Launching the program will move West Virginia into the growing ranks of states implementing out-of-competition testing programs at a time when racing organizations are urging commissions to adopt out-of-competition protocols to catch trainers who are potentially using blood-doping drugs or other long-acting substances that are not typically administered close to a race.
Over each of the past two years, The Jockey Club has set aside $250,000 of grant money to pay for out-of-competition testing, but the grant program has been rarely used. While West Virginia racing statutes require racetracks to pay the cost of all drug testing in the state, both Mountaineer Park and Charles Town are expected to apply for reimbursement from The Jockey Club for the costs of the testing for the two races, Moore said.
“We’ve been working on this for years, and we thought now would be a great time to launch it, considering the tracks can get the money back,” Moore said.
Out-of-competition testing is increasingly considered a vital component of a drug-testing program due to the rise in designer substances that can have a significant impact on a horse’s stamina or physical condition while escaping detection on the day of the race. While out-of-competition testing has so far resulted in several penalties in Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing, there have not been any confirmed positives detected in Thoroughbred racing since states began conducting the tests over the past several years.
Earlier this year, Otabek Umarov, a Midwest-based Thoroughbred trainer, was suspended for 10 years after Kentucky regulators said he refused to allow a horse he trained to be sampled for out-of-competition testing at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The horse who was targeted by the regulators, Looks to Spare, won the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes last year at Mountaineer Park at odds of 74-1. Umarov has appealed the suspension.
Moore said the Umarov situation did not influence the commission’s decision to implement the out-of-competition testing program this year. He said the commission plans to target all graded stakes run in West Virginia for the foreseeable future, and that the commission intends to expand the program to overnight races next year.
Moore also said that the out-of-competition samples in West Virginia will be tested for all regulated and illegal substances, even if the state’s out-of-competition rules can hand down penalties only for those substances that fall under specific definitions of long-acting drugs, such as blood dopers.
“We want to know what’s being used,” Moore said. “That can help us figure out what to watch for.”