Dr Diane Ryan
Deputy Chairperson
Harness Racing NSW

The Integrity of the Harness Racing Industry is as vital to its survival and growth as increased returns to owners, trainers and drivers and state-of-the-art tracks promoting the Industry on Sky Channel or Pay TV. Medication control involving the testing of horses for the presence of 'prohibited substances' is one of our integrity checks.

What are we trying to achieve through medication control?

1. Ensure a 'level playing field' in racing competition.

What we want to see is competition between horses reflecting the talents of the breeder, trainer and driver not the skills of a chemist.

2. Reinforce the standards of horse welfare.

Allowing an unfit or injured horse to compete comes under the banner of aggravated cruelty. Using a substance which allows a horse to compete above its natural ability can result in injury to the horse and a danger to other participants.

3. Ensure integrity and accountability amongst participants.

A trainer is conducting a business for a horse owner and should be ethical in all business transactions. Trainers are responsible for the feeding, management, protection and security of horses in their care. They should take all reasonable precautions to avoid exposure to prohibited substances of horses for which they are responsible. They should be aware and seek information of the consequences of any treatment given to horses in their care.

4. Maintain public confidence in the racing industry at large.

The 'Red Hots' connotation of the harness racing industry in the past has been a major loss of punters, participants and sponsorship. We have been very good at 'shooting ourselves in the foot' through the action of a few irresponsible and selfish individuals.

Why do 'positive' swabs occur?

Our Rules of Racing on prohibited substances are mainly directed at controlling the disgraceful antics of those few participants who abuse medication in horses. However other participants may be charged and penalised under these Rules because of their ignorance or poor judgement when using medication in horses.

Why do these 'accidental' positives occur? Let us look at the Top 5 excuses reported to stewards by trainers as to why the horse in their care has returned a positive swab.



1. I don't know!

About 1 in 10 of trainers answer that they have no idea why the horse returned a positive swab. But not knowing or ignorance is not a relevant defence. Under Rule 190 (1) and (2), the trainer of the horse is guilty of an offence if the horse is not free of a prohibited substance when presented for a race (from 8am on the day of the race for which the horse is nominated till when the horse leaves the racecourse after the race).

The reasons why they 'don't know' may be covered below.

2. I wasn't at the stable and left Joe to get him ready for the races. Joe must have given him the wrong feed.

Rule 190 (3) and (4) states that both the person left in charge of the horse and the trainer are guilty of an offence if the horse is not presented free of a prohibited substance. The trainer can't delegate responsibility of the horse unless approval is given by the Chairman of Stewards.

This case reflects poor communication at the stables either by the trainer in either not giving instructions or else inadequate instructions or by Joe in not understanding the instructions.

Better communication and record keeping in a stable could prevent a recurrence of this 'positive' swab.

3. I gave him what the vet told me to. The horse was OK last time.

Some 'positive' swabs found on urine tests are anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat tendon injuries or arthritis pain. The drugs are S4 or 'prescription only' treatments and should only be obtained from a veterinarian who has inspected the horse and is aware of its health history.

The National Registration Authority for Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals requires that the drug container should have a label:

Verbal advice on treatment can be misinterpreted or forgotten. All treatment schedules should be written down by the veterinarian and either attached to the drug container or else kept with the drug container. If the instructions for use are missing or not given in writing, return the drug to the veterinarian. A mistake in treatment could lead to a severe penalty.

The veterinarian is responsible for advising on any adverse sequelae (side effects) following treatment. A drug residue which can be detected in a swab is one side effect which a trainer should avoid. The Australian Equine Veterinarians Association have compiled a document detailing horse medications and suggested withholding times between the last treatment and the presentation of a horse for a race. This document is for the use of veterinarians who use their knowledge of the health of the horse and the administered drug to determine when the horse is able to be raced following treatment.

If there is some doubt concerning a persistent drug residue, a sample from the horse can be submitted by the veterinarian to the Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory or other accredited racing laboratory for a check test.

Treating a horse using 'left-over' drug from a previous treatment can put the trainer at risk of a 'positive'. The length of time a drug residue remains in a horse's system can change depending upon the health of the horse. Long term use of drugs such as Bute can affect the health of the kidneys which are important for the removal of drugs from the system.

Drugs which are kept in poor conditions (high environmental temperatures or exposure to sunlight) or are older than their expiry date can give unpredictable responses when used. If the stopper of the bottle has been used on a number of occasions, bacteria could enter. Abscesses at the site of injection, high fevers or illness resulting in death could result. If the storage history of a drug or its use has been poor or unknown, it should be returned to a veterinarian or pharmacist for disposal.

If S4 drugs are purchased without the necessary label or not through a veterinarian, the trainer or other persons can be charged under Rule 194 concerning the holding or control of drugs capable of being administered to a horse either unlawfully or which are unlabelled or without supporting prescription.

4. It was a herbal/vitamin preparation which I bought over the counter or by mail order.

Herbal and some vitamin preparations are substances which do not have to go through a formal registration process if they do not make a health claim (for example they can cure a disease or prevent a disease from occurring). Apart from good manufacturing practice which allows the production of a product in an aseptic (bacteria free) manner, there is no requirement for the product manufacturers to prove that the product is effective or to test the activity of all ingredients in the mixture. The National Registration Authority does require that the manufacturers name and address and the main ingredients are listed on the label.

People can mistakenly believe that because herbal or vitamin mixes are 'natural', they should be OK for use in the horse because they are not a 'drug'. The Rules have a number of definitions to cover a 'prohibited substance'. These substances may be a drug, a natural hormone or a byproduct of another substance or any other substance determined by the Controlling Body. Some herbal treatments are prohibited substances.

Many common drugs we currently use originated from 'natural' substances (for example salicylic acid or aspirin from the bark of certain trees). More than 750mcg of salicylic acid in a urine sample is a 'positive' swab. Recently a herbal treatment was found to have strychnine as an ingredient. Strychnine is a controlled substance under the Poisons Act and a known stimulant. Guarana, the 'yuppies' herbal tablet, is a source of caffeine which is readily detected in a urine sample.

If you use any medication or health supplement on a racing horse which is not registered by the National Registration Authority and does not have any substantial experimental evidence to either support its effectiveness or details on what it contains, you could be taking a risk of the horse returning a positive swab.

5. I didn't use a milkshake and I have never used one. The horse must have a ‘high bicarb’ because it is a poor traveller/ it came from a hilly area/ it only drinks bore water/it was stirred up in the stables/ it has a bit of a cold .

Elevated TCO2 levels in horses can be due to severe respiratory (lung) problems, chronic kidney failure, treatment with the drug Lasix or the administration of an alkalising agent. The first two 'possibles' would be unusual in a race fit animal and Lasix would be detectable in a swab. Probability analysis suggests that there may be one trotting breed horse in Australia which has a naturally high blood TCO2 but so far this horse has not been identified.

The use of sodium bicarbonate as a feed additive or as a drench can increase blood TCO2. There are other substances which can also increase blood TCO2 which may be accidentally given to a horse by a trainer or other person who is not aware of their effect or else neglects to read the ingredients in a treatment. These substances called alkalising agents can be found in electrolyte solutions, acidosis treatments, diuretics and urinary alkalisers. They may also be found in human treatments. Common alkalising agents are sodium citrate and sodium succinate.

The method for measuring TCO2 in Australia (by autoanalyser) is not affected by environmental and horse factors which can affect blood gas techniques for measuring TCO2 in research trials or by some racing authorities overseas. Recent experimental evidence has shown that race fit standardbreds in Australia and New Zealand have TCO2 levels well below the 35mmol threshold, including 'elite' performers competing in Group 1 races such as the Miracle Mile and the MH Treuer. There was no difference in TCO2 levels between horses from different areas, after extended travel, after racing or during rest periods in a stable.

Rules of Harness Racing are not 'laws' for the control of illegal activities but 'rules' for fair and competitive racing. Similarly our stewards are not policemen but implementer of the Rules. If any trainer or participant are concerned about the possibility of a swab occurring after their treatment of a horse, they should contact their veterinarian or the Stewards for advice before the horse is presented for a race. Do not become another 'Top 5' excuse.

Our policy is for nil prohibited substances in all racing animals. Care when treating the racing standardbred will protect the integrity of the trainer and our Industry. The responsibility for this occurring is yours.


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