In general, veterinarians may not administer equine medications within 48 hours of a horse race. To protect animals and uphold the integrity of the racing industry, the California Horse Racing Board requires analysis of post-race blood and urine samples.
The Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory serves as the primary equine drug testing laboratory for California's six permanent race courses and nine seasonal fair venues. Funding for the drug testing program comes from a portion of California wagering revenues.
Named for the late Kenneth L. Maddy, California legislator, avid horseman and supporter of veterinary education, this laboratory has evolved quickly since it opened in 1999. The lab analyzed about 12,000 samples during its first year, about one-third of the total. As of 2005, the laboratory has the authority to test all of California's post-race samples. Laboratory personnel now screen up to 36,000 samples annually, according to toxicologist and director Scott Stanley.
Since the laboratory opened, it has added testing services for other livestock, including antibiotic drug residue screening for cattle, sheep and other animals shown at the California State Fair.
As part of the overall service mission, staff members have developed highly specialized methods to detect drugs and other chemicals, says Stanley.
Using strict procedures and precision instruments, including equipment for liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, laboratory personnel can now detect—and measure—more than 800 drug substances.
This exacting approach helps the equine industry respond quickly to emerging issues. For example, industry representatives raised a concern about "milk-shaking," a prohibited procedure believed to increase equine endurance. Stanley recalls, "California was the first jurisdiction to focus on milk-shaking in Thoroughbreds. We initiated a pilot testing program in 2004 to assess unnatural levels of total carbon dioxide in race horses." By the end of 2005, when a new state law banned the practice, the laboratory had already tested 25,000 pre-race blood samples.
With experience and procedures in place, laboratory officials readied themselves for the process of accreditation. In 2005, this effort paid off. The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation certified that the Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory meets international standards for chemical testing accuracy and quality control. "This certification assures global acceptance of our analytical processes," Stanley says, "and facilitates communication among analytical testing experts around the world."
As the laboratory has gained recognition for its service program, Stanley states, a research program has begun to support graduate studies in pharmacology and toxicology.
Dr. Sara Thomasy is one of the first students from the School of Veterinary Medicine to complete both DVM and PhD degrees through the Veterinarian Scientist Training Program. Working with Stanley, she examined how fentanyl, an opioid pain reliever, affects the central nervous systems of horses when delivered on a skin patch. Her results may add a much-needed option in the treatment of severe or long-term pain in horses. Other graduate students pursuing research in pharmacology and/or toxicology will soon base their work at this state-of-the-art laboratory.
Researchers have evaluated other effects of prescribed medications, unauthorized drugs and other substances on the performance of horses. Examples include:
*Determining time required to clear non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications from a horse's system
*Evaluating potential performance effects of the diuretic Lasix
*Determining acceptable residue levels of procaine penicillin
Stanley says, "Each project provides baseline information that allows us to give practitioners necessary information to appropriately treat their equine patients."
Veterinarians consult faculty members of the Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory for hard-to-find information and guidance for treating elite equine athletes. "Based on research and legal guidelines, we're advising veterinarians about withdrawal times for drugs they are using with their patients," Stanley states. Regularly scheduled presentations and visits to race tracks offer further data to trainers and veterinarians. Stanley expects to place drug use guidelines online in 2006.
The Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory will host the 2008 International Conference of Racing Analysts and Veterinarians—just in time for the UC Davis Centennial and the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the School of Veterinary Medicine.