LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Thoroughbred racing is joining the crackdown on drug cheats. The 20 horses expected to start in Saturday's Kentucky Derby will be scrutinized for illegal substances as much if not more so than their human counterparts in other sports.
All horses at the Derby will undergo pre-race blood tests for alkalizing agents called "milkshakes" that help alleviate fatigue, and then a "super test" to screen post-race urine samples, which can detect about 140 different drugs.
The second test will also be used at the two other Triple Crown races, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. It was administered at last year's Breeders' Cup. No horse tested positive.
"Racing has a serious drug problem, and a huge perception problem that is especially bothersome in a sport that depends on public confidence for our main revenue stream," C. Steven Duncker, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Graded Stakes Committee, said Monday.
Starting Thursday, the Churchill Downs barns of Derby horses will be watched by an independent team of investigators from the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Also patrolling the grounds will be local police, sheriff's deputies and private security guards hired by the track.
The stricter post-race testing was mandated by the graded-stakes committee, and applies to the Derby as well as all the other major races in the United States.
"It's been a long, hard haul to get here because each state sets it own policy," Duncker said, "but it seems like the industry is getting serious very quickly about this issue."
Officials are not worried that "juiced up" horses will go out and run in record times, they just want to reassure fans that no horse has an unfair advantage. Triple Crown winner Secretariat, for example, still holds the Derby record for 1 1/4 miles at 1:59 2/5 in 1973. Only one other horse, Monarchos in 2001, has broken 2 minutes.
A total of 13 racing jurisdictions have agreed to the uniform guidelines of the "super test" and another 13 are expected to follow by the end of the year.
The "super test" costs about $200-$300 per sample, making it prohibitive for most racing jurisdictions to use daily, said Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national reform group based in Lexington.
As a result, many tracks rotate testing for specific drugs on a daily basis, he said.
Recently, horses that belonged to four trainers from California tested positive for milkshakes, and all the trainers' horses had to appear in a detention barn for observation 24 hours before they raced. Jeff Mullins, one of the trainers, will saddle Buzzards Bay in the Derby. Also, New York trainer Gregory Martin has been charged with using a milkshake to fix a race at Aqueduct in 2003.
Dr. Rick Arthur, a veterinarian who oversees the milkshake testing at California's tracks, said no positives for alkalizing agents have been detected since Mullins and the three other trainers were caught during Santa Anita's winter meeting.
"The scarlet 'M' that trainers have to wear has been very effective in controlling this problem," he said in a telephone interview. "The fans thought the problem was bigger than it is. The gamblers are very satisfied that the playing field is level and that we're seeing fair races."
The only Kentucky Derby horse to be disqualified was in 1968, when the illegal drug butazolodin (bute) was detected in Dancer's Image.
When Belmont Park opens Wednesday, there will be even stricter rules at the track, operated by NYRA. Every horse will be isolated in a detention barn six hours before their races, with only the state veterinarian having access to them.
Duncker, who is also co-chairman of the New York Racing Association, said it was hard to determine how widespread the drug problem is in racing, but "like in other sports, our testing seems to be a step behind the cheaters.