Horse-drug debate strikes home Racing: The controversial substance clenbuterol was found in the Laurel-based Testafly after a third-place finish in the Iselin Handicap, earning disqualification.

September 12, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Testafly, a stakes-winning horse stabled at Laurel Park, tested positive for the drug clenbuterol after finishing third behind Skip Away two weeks ago in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Although the positive test turned up in New Jersey, the case brings the industry-wide controversy about clenbuterol in thoroughbreds home to Maryland for the first time.

Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator. It helps clear a horse's lungs of mucus and helps horses with respiratory diseases breathe easier.

Since clenbuterol was legalized May 11 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, trainers, veterinarians and chemists have struggled to understand the drug and its effects on horses.

Complicating the struggle is that clenbuterol, sold in syrup form as Ventipulmin, is legal only in horses when they're not racing. The drug in a horse's urine after a race can result in sanctions against the owner and trainer, such as fines, withholding of the purse and suspensions.

Dale Mills trains Testafly at Laurel Park. Since claiming him last fall for $14,500, Mills has saddled the 4-year-old colt for two stakes wins at Pimlico and one at Philadelphia Park.

Testafly is the leader in his division of the racing series known as JTC MATCH (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships). The Iselin was part of the series. Because of the positive test, New Jersey racing officials disqualified Testafly from third to last and withheld his $50,000 purse money.

Testafly's owners appealed the disqualification and requested that a split sample of Testafly's urine be tested at a different laboratory.

"It's in litigation. I have no comment," J. D. Brown, one of the colt's owners, said yesterday. "This will all be cleared up."

Brown lives in Fort Washington and manages professional boxers, including middleweight champion William Joppy.

Alan Foreman, founder of MATCH, said that Mills, the trainer, told him that he had not administered clenbuterol to Testafly before the Iselin and that the colt suffers from no disease that would warrant it.

A spokesman for the New Jersey Racing Commission said yesterday that a hearing into the matter would be scheduled for later this month.

A smattering of clenbuterol race-day positives have turned up around the country, most notably in California with Free House.

He was a star of last year's Triple Crown series, finishing second or third in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

In Maryland, only two positives have been detected this year, both involving standardbreds at Rosecroft Raceway, said Tom Lomangino, the Maryland racing chemist.

Lomangino worked with veterinarians this past summer and they determined that clenbuterol required six days to pass through a horse's system.

So Lomangino informed Maryland trainers: If you use clenbuterol to treat horses for respiratory diseases, stop the treatments seven days before they race.

"I think Maryland horsemen are very cognizant of the way we do things," said Lomangino, one of the nation's most respected racing chemists, and one known for running a tight ship.

"You're going to respect a Doberman pinscher a lot more than a chihuahua."

Nicholas L. Meittinis, an equine veterinarian, estimated that 10 percent to 15 percent of thoroughbreds at Maryland tracks receive clenbuterol.

Respiratory problems are a common malady among racehorses, he said.

"That's the only thing it's used for," Meittinis said.

Although clenbuterol was only recently legalized on a restricted basis, it is not new to horse racing. Trainers have used it illegally for years because of its respiratory benefits.

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Pub Date: 9/12/98

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