An Open Letter: Lazarus on Contamination

March 11, 2024

HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus. (The Jockey Club Photo)

An Open Letter to the Industry from HISA’s Lisa Lazarus in response to Rusty Arnold’s recent open letter.

Like many of you, I read Rusty Arnold’s open letter about his positive test with interest, and carefully considered the concerns that he identified. Also, like many of you, I am privileged to personally know, and respect Rusty, so I do not take his criticisms lightly. Rusty identified some of the challenges inherent in administering an equine anti-doping and medication control (“ADMC”) program that is efficient, effective, and fair. However, it is important to note that those same challenges existed long before HISA and HIWU came onto the scene. In fact, there is no difference whatsoever between the prohibition of, and the testing for, Tramadol (the substance found in Rusty’s horse) pre- and post-HISA, nor for the application of the trainer responsibility rule. There is a difference in the sanction, however, which is less severe under HISA. But more importantly, HISA is doing, and will continue to do, whatever it takes to help make our ADMC Program as effective and fair as it can be.

Let me start by laying out the relevant history of Tramadol, an opioid analgesic, in horseracing. Tramadol has always been a prohibited substance under ARCI rules; it was originally a Class A penalty and was changed to Class B in March 2016. In fact, Carol Cobb, a Kentucky trainer, was ordered to serve a 180-day suspension in 2021 for Tramadol (the violation arose prior to March 2016.)   Every international racing jurisdiction bans Tramadol. Under FEI rules (sport horses), Tramadol is classified as a doping–not medication–substance, and a positive test yields a presumptive two-year ban. Under HISA, Tramadol is a Class B violation because HISA’s ADMC Committee recognized that there are legitimate indications for the use of Tramadol in a horse outside of a race.  A Tramadol positive now comes with a 15-day suspension, which can be reduced to seven days if the trainer accepts the consequences without a legal challenge (which is what Rusty opted to do in this case). HIWU testing specifications for Tramadol are consistent with TOBA’s Graded Stakes testing which were in place prior to the implementation of the HISA ADMC Program. Kentucky samples were previously tested to the TOBA standards, as the KHRC did not distinguish between stakes and non-stakes races when testing for Tramadol. So, put simply, nothing has changed regarding the treatment of Tramadol in Kentucky, except that HISA has a more lenient sanction than previously applicable to Kentucky trainers.

One of two things is true for any substance: it either has a legitimate, medically justified use in Thoroughbreds and is permitted to be administered properly–or it doesn’t, regardless of whether it’s been proven to enhance performance. If a substance has no legitimate therapeutic use, then as an industry we need to ensure these substances are not permitted in a horse’s system–whether intentionally or unintentionally. In addition, while horsemen’s fears are understandable, in truth the risk of “contamination” causing a positive test is exceedingly low.  Nonetheless, HISA firmly believes that maintaining a backstretch free of contamination is a responsibility that must be shared amongst all racing stakeholders, and not fall exclusively on horsemen’s shoulders.

That was a phenomenal article Jonathan. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. Ruffian was my second love (after Man O' War) and I simply cannot stop the tears from falling every time I read about this magnificent black beauty.

Maria Schlemmer Ackerman View testimonials