The director of the Equine Drug Control Program for the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) said hair testing could be another tool to try to catch people using performance enhancing drugs, but the method has some limitations compared to current blood and urine testing protocols.
“Hair testing will not provide any answers regarding whether or not the product was in the system at the time of the race. What it does is it will give you an idea whether or not the horse may or may not have been exposed to that product at some point for the duration of whatever the length of the hair is,” said Carolyn Cooper. “Its real utility is if you want to take a hard line, zero tolerance, against a certain drug where the regulator doesn’t ever want to see it in the horse’s system… substances such as anabolic steroids or clenbuterol.”
HAIR TESTING IN OKLAHOMA
Taking a zero tolerance approach appears to be the incentive in Oklahoma where Remington Park and the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association, with approval of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, have jointly agreed to implement a rule of entry for 2019 requiring every horse to come up with a clean hair test for any prohibited drugs before being allowed to race.
“Certain prohibited drugs have the ability to affect performance long past the time they can be detected in blood or urine. The goal of this proposal is to screen and eliminate participation of horses that testing indicates may have been administered prohibited and illegal drugs within the past five to six months,” said an article on stallionesearch.com.
But Cooper said she doesn’t expect any Canadian jurisdiction to adopt hair testing any time soon. In Canada, the proper regulatory framework has not been established with regards to hair testing. For example, protocols have not been set up for hair sample collection, handling, storage, testing methods and data interpretation.
LIMITED VALUE TO CPMA
Besides, Cooper said hair testing has limited value to the CPMA.
“Our mandate is actually quite limited with respect to drug testing, because our mandate is actually to protect the pari-mutuel betting public and so the drug control supports that over-arching mandate, which means our authority related to drug control is limited to races on which there is pari-mutuel betting. Then, our role, as well, is to ensure that there were no prohibited substances in the horse’s system at the time of the race. Anything else is provincial authority — for instance, out-of-competition testing,” Cooper said.
“For the CPMA’s purposes, (hair testing is) not the most useful testing methodology when we have blood and urine samples that can be taken immediately after the race where we can detect the drug directly.
“(With hair testing), you’ll never be able to exactly pinpoint and say, ‘On this day, this horse got this drug’ because even though the growth of the hair is a rough timeline, it will be determined by the horse’s individual metabolism, it will be determined by the time of year, by nutrition, by a whole bunch of things. And, a negative result doesn’t mean a horse, necessarily, wasn’t exposed to the drug, it just means it didn’t make its way into that hair follicle in a high enough concentration.”
Cooper said, “hair testing is actually something (the CPMA has) been aware of and looked at for probably a couple of years now. Our official chemist has taken specific training on how to do hair testing,” but Cooper added that hair testing is “not really” better at finding performance-enhancing substances currently difficult to detect through blood or urine, such as EPO.
She said the CPMA doesn’t have any authority over the provincial regulators, but she hasn’t heard any of the regulators are seriously considering adding hair testing to their testing protocol.
“The provinces may determine that it has some utility for them and we would certainly support them,” Cooper said. “We do collaborate with the provinces very closely on the drug testing side. We certainly would be willing to advise them because our official chemists do a lot of continuing education and because there is an interest in hair testing, they have received official training on hair testing and have done their research.”
Unlike the United States, which has a state-by-state piecemeal approach to drug testing, Canada has uniform testing methods.
UNIFORM TESTING IN CANADA
All of the CPMA’s testing is done at two official laboratories — its own chemistry lab in Ottawa and through Maxxam Analytics, “which is a private lab that we have been contracting for years to do the work on our behalf… Post-race samples are randomnly selected to go to one of the two laboratories and both labs have to meet identical standards in terms of qualifications for their chemists in terms of accreditations, oversight, quality control and, in fact, what we do is we will do blind samples regularly where they are sent to the labs and both labs have to identify the drugs and then we can compare the results from the lab to ensure that the results match so we’re not running the risk of one lab calling something that the other lab would miss.”
For out-of-competition testing run by some provinces, Cooper said the provincial regulators will collect their own samples and, “the vast majority of those will go to Maxxam and Maxxam will use the same testing levels and testing methodology that CPMA uses on those provincial samples, unless the provinces specifically instruct them differently.
“The only times that there is something different in Canada right now is in the Quarter Horses at Ajax, clenbuterol is zero tolerance. Right now, the official guidance from the CPMA is seven days for clenbuterol. So, the Quarter Horses in Ontario there is extra clenbuterol scrutiny and then the thoroughbreds in Alberta have tighter restrictions on clenbuterol.”
As for hair testing, Cooper doesn’t rule out its adoption in the future, but, for now, she doesn’t expect horses will be expected to turn over hair samples in the near term.