Quarter Horse racing’s Achilles’ heel: Drugging continues unabated

Quarter Horse racing’s appetite for drugs makes its Thoroughbred cousins look absolutely prudish.

It is a problem that pervades the breed at all levels and shows no sign of abating.

Someday soon I am going to sit down with a pot of coffee and collect just a partial list of high-profile trainers and races involving illicit Quarter Horse doping over the past few decades.

But for now, I will illustrate the breed’s insatiable appetite for drugs with some statistic I recently received as part of an official records request from the New Mexico Racing Commission (NMRC). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the racing Quarter Horse, New Mexico, and specifically Ruidoso Downs, is the epicenter of the their most lucrative racing program. It holds a series of futurities and derbies that form the foundation of the sport.

These signature events and their estimated purses include the $3,000,000 All American Futurity and $1,000,000 All American Derby, $1,000,000 Rainbow Futurity and $750,000 Rainbow Derby, along with the $1,000,000 Ruidoso Futurity and the $750,000 Ruidoso Derby.

I became familiar with Quarter Horse racing early in my career. My first job at a horse track was in the racing office at the Downs at Santa Fe in New Mexico in 1979. One thing unique about racing in New Mexico is that all of the tracks (six total) race a mix of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses on the same program.

Lopsided test results

The most recent annual report posted by the NMRC shows that in 2017, there were 1,431 Thoroughbred races and 1,189 Quarter Horse races in the state. That is roughly a 55/45 split in favor of Thoroughbreds.

So, one would think that the number of positive test for each breed would be roughly equal.

Here are some figures from the NMRC. During the two-year period 2016-2017 there were 306 positive tests — 61 Thoroughbred and 246 Quarter Horse. That’s a 20/80 split. In other words, Quarter Horses account of less than half the races but 80% of the positive tests.

To isolate the test results further, let’s look at a group called beta-2 agonists. This group of drugs is known to promote the building of muscle mass.

                                                           TB                           QH

Clenbuterol                                        9                              77

Albuterol                                             1                              4

Zilpaterol                                            0                              4

Ractopamine                                     0                              1


News out of Ruidoso — to scratch or not

On August 12, 2019, the Paulick Report writes under the headline,Transfers OK’d For Trey Wood Horses Entered In All American Futurity Trials,” the following:

“The New Mexico Racing Commission will permit horses from the barn of suspended Quarter Horse trainer S. Trey Wood to be transferred to other trainers, allowing the horses to run in the Aug. 16-17 trials for the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.

Wood already had 31 horses entered in the All American Futurity trials – 12% of the total horses competing for spots in the Labor Day race – when he received a summary suspension on Aug. 9 for a medication violation. The suspension was issued after Gold Heart Eagle V tested positive for albuterol following a victory in the fourth race at Ruidoso July 27. Albuterol is a Class 3 drug with a Class A penalty in Quarter Horse racing under Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines. Wood, currently the leading North American Quarter Horse trainer by money won and leading trainer by money and races won at Ruidoso this year, was suspended in 2018 for an albuterol positive at Remington Park in Oklahoma.” 

There is something very unusual about this arrangement. My 25-plus years as a regulator informs me that typically entered horses of suspended trainers are scratched. It appears that an exception is being made in this instance. In fact, the AQHA posted on its website NMRC’s initial decision to scratch all 31 horses.

This is where I would normally criticize the regulators for not adhering to established precedents or playing favorites or simply being gutless. I will not make any of those claims in this instance.

The NMRC had the option of letting 31 horses run in trials to qualify for a $3,000,000 race or scratch them all. One option is bad, the other, worse.

In this particular situation everyone is trying to do the right thing. But both the NMRC and Ruidoso Downs should have seen this coming. This is, after all, Quarter Horse racing.  Backtracking on a decision, especially involving a race of this magnitude, does not engender confidence or trust within the regulated community. 

Will the same protocol be in place if a futurity qualifier comes up positive prior to the finals?

The All-American Futurity has been the target of this kind ethical malfeasance for decades. After all, it was only two years ago this week when the second-fastest qualifier on the first qualifying day, Heza Streakin Legacy, was barred from the All American final after a positive out-of-competition test for clenbuterol.

Trainers take their best shot in the trials in order to qualify for the big Labor Day pay day.

Unfortunately, sometimes their best shot includes and needle and syringe.

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