By Ray Thomas
RACING NSW boss Peter V’landys has put horse racing drugs cheats on notice by declaring: “We will catch you.’’
For the first time, Racing NSW is close to introducing a world-first drug-testing procedure that will put it a step ahead of anyone trying to use performance-enhancing drugs on thoroughbreds.
V’landys said the development of cutting-edge technology — called the Equine Biological Passport — will further enhance the integrity of racing by combating gene doping and other methods of illegal drug use of racehorses.
“The biggest risk for racing and sports worldwide is gene doping,’’ he said. “Racing NSW is the first to look into developing a test for gene doping. We have been working on this for 18 months and we are getting close.
“This will put us ahead, not behind, the drug cheats.’’
Gene doping is understood to have many widespread and potentially shocking applications.
For example, the cheats could have a racehorse’s DNA gene for muscle inflammation altered so that it runs through the pain barrier. This could potentially lead to a catastrophic breakdown, putting equine and human lives at risk.
These procedures could also manipulate the gene for muscle growth and produce racehorses that are extremely muscular and with increased strength.
“In theory, if the muscle growth gene was altered it will mean a racehorse with muscle up 20 to 50 times more than normal,’’ V’landys said.
“We will end up with racehorses who clearly look unnatural.
Peter V’landys at Bart Cummings’ stables. Peter V’landys at Bart Cummings’ stables. “It will be like looking at those Chinese female swimmers from over a decade ago.’’
V’landys said once the gene-doping tests are developed, they could also be used on human athletes.
There is some intelligence to suggest that the cheats are already experimenting with gene doping, making the Racing NSW drug-testing development program so crucial.
This is because the doping gene is almost identical to the natural gene, thereby making detection impossible using current testing procedures.
“Gene doping is another example of cheats developing new methods intended to avoid traditional testing procedures,” V’landys said.
“The Equine Biological Passport represents a major futuristic initiative which keeps the racing industry ahead of the game when it comes to integrity.
“Traditionally authorities have reacted to the use of prohibited substances upon becoming aware of their use.
“Accordingly, we test for those substances in either the urine or blood sample.
“With the new technology that we are investing in the passport, the industry can be proactive in identifying those who are engaging in doping practices, without necessarily knowing what the specific substance is, or the reliance on the urine and blood sample, after the race.
“This is another example of thoroughbred racing staying ahead of the cheats by identifying means by which people may seek to misuse genetic technologies and developing strategies to combat those methods.’’
V’landys said the passport will be a “whole-of-organisation initiative involving our scientists, stewards, investigators and veterinarians that ensures all of the available information concerning prohibited practices is reviewed in real time to uphold integrity in racing”.