Annette Hacker, director,
Office: (515) 294-4777
Walter Hyde, Racing Chemistry Program, (515) 294-1950, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Kuester, News Service, (515) 294-0704, email@example.com
Iowa State University helps catch cheaters as summer's fastest athletes compete
AMES, Iowa -- One of the biggest sporting events of the season is just around the corner. It attracts the fastest athletes, worldwide media interest, and global attention.
It may also attract cheaters.
The event, the Kentucky Derby, May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, is the center of the horse racing world and the first leg of the prestigious Triple Crown.
It also has to protect itself from cheaters by checking the horses for performance-enhancing drugs.
Iowa State University researchers have been working with the Kentucky Derby for six years, and during that time drug testing has become a household topic more than ever.
"All the attention the subject has gotten in the past three or four years in all the human sporting endeavors has really raised people's awareness of drug testing and cheating in general," said Walter Hyde, director of ISU's Racing Chemistry Program, in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
In addition to checking all the samples for the big race, they test all horses in all races in Kentucky, Iowa, Virginia, New Mexico and the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
In all, Hyde and his staff of 18 to 20 in the Racing Chemistry Program test about 35,000 samples each year. But nothing is ever routine.
"The cheaters are always looking for something they think we can't find," he said. "We work very hard to minimize this happening."
Hyde, who is a past president of the Association of Official Racing Chemists, is passionate about protecting the sport, the animals and the jockeys.
"We're working to maintain the integrity of the sport so that people who wage their money can do so on as even a playing field as possible," he said. "If you bet on a horse based on what you've seen it do in the past 10 races and someone alters that horse for the latest race, you no longer are playing on an even field.
"I am in it for the safety of the animal. I don't think animals that can't speak for themselves should be abused chemically for the sake of somebody who wants to win money. I'm also in it for the safety of the jockey who might have their safety at risk due to the effects of the drug."
Another reason is the integrity of the sport.
"I think sometimes, people feel a little cheated when someone they've been rooting for is shown to be cheating with drugs," said Hyde. "That pulls the whole awareness of drug cheaters into the public forum."
After the derby is run, race officials select the horses they want tested. According to Hyde, the winning horse and any other horses that run much faster or slower than normal are usually chosen.
The samples, either blood or urine, are taken by regulatory appointed veterinarians.
Those samples are sent by overnight courier to the Iowa State Racing Chemistry Program. The staff tests the samples and sends the results back to the Kentucky Racing Authority. Samples are either labeled "negative" -- meaning that there were no banned substances found -- "suspicious," meaning that the samples may contain a banned substance or drug. The suspicious samples are then retested and categorized as negative or positive. A positive sample means it contains a banned substance or drug.
During that time, the people betting on the horses have already collected their winnings. However, at some tracks, the owners of the winning horses may not collect their purses until the Iowa State results are given to the Kentucky Racing Authority.
According to Marc Guilfoil, deputy executive director of the Kentucky Horseracing Authority, some race tracks award the purse money before the results are returned while others withhold the money until the results are known. The process of testing and returning the results takes less than two weeks.
Hyde knows that his results are important for several reasons.
First, the livelihood of the owners and trainers of the horses is at stake. A positive test result could mean suspension from the sport.
"But people who deliberately cheat probably don't deserve to be involved in the sport," said Hyde.
Penalties for getting caught vary, according to Guilfoil.
"We have three categories," said Guilfoil. "The most serious type, Type A, could lead to a $50,000 fine and an indefinite suspension. We take it very seriously."
Types B and C are less serious and include over medicating a horse with legal drugs.
Kentucky is happy the derby is being monitored by Iowa State's Racing Chemistry Program.
"I work closely with the ISU people and talk with them almost every day, and they are a very good lab to work with," said Guilfoil, "We're very happy with the work they're doing."
Hyde and his staff of 18 to 20 in the Racing Chemistry Program test about 35,000 samples each year.
I don't think animals that can't speak for themselves should be abused chemically for the sake of somebody who wants to win money.
Walter Hyde, Racing Chemistry Program