By: T.D. Thornton
When news broke early Thursday about an alleged series of positive tests for the substance glaucine involving high-profile Standardbred trainers in New York, the story was picked up by a number of international publications because of its potential for creating bombshell reverberations in the rest of the racing world.
The most arresting aspect of the story first reported by the website Harnesslink.com was that two of the trainers allegedly involved were Ron Burke and Julie Miller–among the biggest names in United States harness racing. Miller is employed by Jeff Gural, a track owner and racehorse owner who is known for his draconian, zero-tolerance crusading against drug cheats.
A secondary concern that filtered through the racing world in the last 48 hours is open speculation about whether glaucine, which is known to ease breathing and improve airway intake, could be the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of being the latest performance-enhancing drug to besmirch the sport.
But Dr. Dionne Benson, executive director and chief operating officer for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the industry-backed organization that develops uniform rules, policies and testing standards, told TDN in a Friday phone interview that because New York has yet to issue any official rulings or disclose any concentration levels about the alleged glaucine positives, it would be premature to leap to conclusions of widespread abuse.
Glaucine isn’t even listed on the Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances and Recommended Penalties, Benson confirmed.
“It certainly has potential to be performance-enhancing,” Benson said. “It’s used in European countries as a pharmaceutical. The U.S. does not have any FDA-approved over-the-counter or prescription drugs for animals or humans that have glaucine in them. So if someone’s getting it, they’re not getting it though appropriate channels. It’s going to come down to what kind of concentrations, whether horses had been exposed to it, and whether the concentrations that they found are consistent with inadvertent environmental exposure.”
In fact, Benson’s first thought when asked about glaucine positives was the possibility of accidental contamination from wood shavings derived from tulip trees.
“Glaucine is found in the tulip tree,” Benson explained. “Interestingly, we’ve seen this before. In 2013, the Pennsylvania commission had a rash of positives for glaucine. They were very concerned because it was across barns and it was across trainers.”
Pennsylvania authorities worked up some tests that involved exposing horses to different levels of tulip wood shavings, “and they actually found out that there was some potential for it to be due to environmental contamination at the concentrations that they found it,” Benson said.
“So you have to look at the totality of the circumstances,” Benson cautioned. “Because