By: Jeremy Balan
The ongoing fight against the use of prohibited drugs in racehorses now features a drug-sniffing dog named Chini.
A 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, Chini was deployed by Ruidoso Downs during its summer meet in 2018, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Track president and general manager Jeff True explained the program during a panel on racing integrity Dec. 4 at the University of Arizona’s Global Symposium on Racing in Tucson, Ariz.
“We’ve got a dog that can smell clenbuterol. We’ve got a dog that can detect albuterol. We put that dog on the stable gate at 5 in the morning, and we were sweeping cars,” True said during a discussion titled “Tools of the Regulatory Trade: Insuring Integrity in Racing.”
Drug-sniffing dogs are not entirely foreign to racetracks, as they’ve been used to detect recreational drugs in barn areas, but True said Chini is likely the first dog used to detect prohibited equine medication. While Chini was working on detecting equine medications, another dog was working to find recreational human drugs.
“We found some substances in the shedrows and in vehicles, the vehicles we were looking at, and we either handed that material over to local law enforcement in the case of human drugs, or we sent them to the stewards if they were in possession of a syringe that they weren’t supposed to have,” True said after the session.
True said that discovered medications were sent to a lab to get a report on exactly what the substance was composed of, and once identified, those results were submitted to the New Mexico Racing Commission or the track stewards, although he said the main function for Chini’s involvement at Ruidoso initially was as a deterrent.
“We were trying to make the statement that we’re going to be in your barns looking for stuff,” True said. “It was about deterrence, not about trying to bust a bunch of folks. … Would we like to find a bad actor? Of course. But the dog is just the tip of the spear.”
True said the dogs discovered “about a dozen” drugs, both for equines and recreational substances for humans, and explained the strength of Chini’s abilities, even to detect the plastic of an unused syringe and 12 types of medications.
“The level of sensitivity—the car stops at the stable gate, stops, and while they’re checking the license the dog is sweeping, and if the dog hits on something, we send them for secondary search,” True said. “We had a lady with a purse on the floorboard with an albuterol inhaler inside the purse. That’s the level of sensitivity we’re talking about.”
Ruidoso owns Chini, and the track’s horsemen’s integrity liaison, Luis Alvarez, is working toward becoming a certified handler. True said he has also offered Chini’s services to other New Mexico tracks.
Earlier in the discussion New York Racing Association regulatory veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Durenberger gave a presentation on the “Regulatory Veterinary Intervention Rate,” which is calculated as a combination of any action a regulatory veterinarian takes to remove an unsound horse from competition, injuries or deaths in racing or training, and medication violations, divided by the a trainer’s total number of starts at one track.
“Here’s the uses for this. If you’re an operator, you might want to consider whether a trainer’s entries or stall app continue to be welcome at your racetrack,” Durenberger said. “We’ve got an objective number that shows the horses in that trainer’s care, custody, and control require the regulatory vets to do something at a much higher than expected rate. As a result of this, the safety and welfare of all participants at the track could be unfairly jeopardized. The integrity of your wagering product could be called into question. … A trainer with a very high RVI … is essentially a liability.”
Scott Wells, the president and general manager of Remington Park, wrapped up the presentations for the panel.
“I don’t think the cat-and-mouse game will ever go away,” Wells said. “We’re always going to be chasing people who come up with new and more sophisticated ways to cheat.”