Penn Trying To Combat Horse Racing’s Doping Problem

Written By Kim Yuhl on June 22, 2018 - Last Updated on August 8, 2022
foot in stirrup on a horse

Horses that want to grow up to race on the biggest stages start training from a very young age. It is not unlike their human counterparts.

To emerge at the top of the field requires consistent training, a carefully crafted diet, and supplements that dull the pain or enhance energy levels when needed.

Professional athletes, both human and horse agree to compete free from drugs or genetically modified genes or cells to enhance performance.

New research initiative to fight gene doping

Gene doping has been a problem in horse racing for many years and continues to threaten the integrity of the sport.

Brian Sanfratello, the executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, commented on gene doping and the need to protect the horse racing industry to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Our members, all of whom are Pennsylvania thoroughbred horse breeders, have consistently stated that maintaining integrity in the sport of racing is one of their top priorities.

The not-for-profit association is supporting its priority by opening its wallet to fund research to detect gene doping. It recently donated $300,000 to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine for research that will help advance detection technology.

“With this grant, we can continue to be a leader in protecting the integrity of horse racing,” said Dr. Mary Robinson, director of the center’s equine pharmacology laboratory. “While gene therapy represents an important breakthrough for patients with disease-causing genes and rare genetic diseases, we need to be sure that we are taking steps to stay ahead of those who would seek to use these advances for illicit means.”

The donation came from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund. The Fund gets its funding from slot machine revenue with a majority of its money used to increase race prizes and incentives. A unanimous vote of Pennsylvania’s State Horse Racing Commission approved the project.

The commissioner of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, Russell Jones, said the panel “is committed to maintaining a fair and level playing field, both for our fans and the vast majority of owners and trainers who play by the rules.”

The controversy behind Lasix in horse racing

“Racing clean” seems to be a relative term in the horse racing industry.

Earlier this month, Justify became the 13th horse to win horse racing’s Triple Crown. It did so by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in the same season. The colt won fair and square, but he didn’t do it “clean.”

Hours before race time, Justify and his competitors received the performance-enhancing drug, Lasix. Lasix has been prevalent in North American horse racing since the 1970s.

Lasix causes the horse to pee like a racehorse – literally. The loss of fluid protects the lungs and results in the horse losing 20-30 pounds before the race. The horse competes dehydrated, which can have a negative impact on his health. Nearly every American trainer gives their horse Lasix.

Joe Gorajec, the ex-director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, does not support the use of Lasix. “There is no amount of spin that can overcome the fact that a horse racing program can be conducted without Lasix,” he said to Inside Science.

And the rest of the world agrees. Most international horse racing programs do not allow the drug. Some countries, such as Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom only allow Lasix during training. Others, such as Germany, prohibit it entirely.

“The whole premise of horse racing is supposed to be clean and honest competition,” said Gorajec. “And clean competition means drug-free.”

Is detecting gene doping enough to protect the integrity of the game? Is giving every horse a performance-enhancing drug creating a fair playing field?

Conveniently, it is those with a stake in the outcome that determines the definition of “clean” horse race.

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Kim Yuhl

Kim Yuhl is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about poker culture and the online gambling industry. A part-time member of the poker media since 2013, Kim recently sold her marketing business to write full-time while traveling around the world. You can learn more about her work and travels at

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