No positive steroid test results reported at the Derby, Oaks
The Canadian Press
LEXINGTON, Ky. May 4, 2009— Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby without the help of anabolic steroids and, for the first time in the 135-year history of the race, officials have the tests to prove it.
Mine That Bird was Canada's two-year-old champion of 2008 and was co-bred by Toronto's Peter Lamantia.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced Monday that blood and urine tests given to the top four finishers of the Derby and Kentucky Oaks were clean of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
"I am very pleased by the results, which give a clear indication that Kentucky's intensified efforts to make certain those associated with thoroughbred racing are doing the right things, is having an impact," said Lisa Underwood, executive director of the racing commission.
"The results also say to a watching world that the safety of horses and riders as well as the integrity of the sport is uppermost in our minds."
While extensive drug testing has long been part of the post-race procedure at Churchill Downs, this was the first Derby run with a steroid ban in effect. Kentucky and nearly every other racing state now screens for steroids, although most didn't a year ago.
Mary Scollay, Kentucky's equine medical director, said she would have been surprised by any result other than a complete exoneration of the Derby and Oaks starters.
"No-one would have any reason to play reindeer games," she said. "They all knew they were going to be tested."
The Derby horses tested for steroids were Mine That Bird, runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, third-place Musket Man and fourth-place Papa Clem.
Stewards also had the option of testing Friesan Fire, the beaten favourite, but Scollay said there was no reason to do so because the horse was clipped and sustained a hoof injury, explaining his 18th-place showing.
In the Oaks, steroid tests were administered to runaway winner Rachel Alexandra and the next three finishers - Stone Legacy, Flying Spur and Be Fair.
Science still hasn't determined the true effect steroids have on racehorses.
While there is clear evidence the drugs build muscle mass in human athletes that lead to more power or strength, racing for years focused on other performance-enhancing drugs instead that were perceived as more dangerous to the animals.
Rick Dutrow, who trained last year's Derby winner, Big Brown, acknowledged he gave the horse the then-legal stanozolol, sold under the brand name Winstrol, although he insisted the intent was not to build muscle but to increase his appetite and brighten his coat.
While there wasn't much resistance to a steroid ban, some had speculated that one of the effects could be a significant reduction in racing success for geldings, who may find steroids more useful to make up for lost testosterone.
Mine That Bird became the first gelding since Funny Cide in 2003 to win the Derby.
Mine That Bird's trainer, Chip Woolley, acknowledged that if steroids were still legal, he would have considered giving his horse a dose. Because they're not, he says he never gave it a second thought.
"I believe it's definitely a hindrance to the gelding, but I'm not really concerned about it," Woolley said. "Overall I'm happy with the way the rules are."
Bob Baffert, trainer of Pioneerof the Nile, questioned whether the steroid ban will have much effect on performance.
"I didn't think the sport is bad," Baffert said. "I think baseball gave steroids a bad name, but it was never a big factor with us."
This was the first year Kentucky's new drug testing lab at the University of Florida has analyzed samples from the Derby.
Besides the blood and urine tests given to the top four finishers after the race, all Derby and Oaks starters received a pre-race test for total carbon dioxide, or TCO2.
Excessive TCO2 indicates a performance-enhancing alkalizing agent, commonly referred to as a "milkshake," but Scollay said none of the Derby or Oaks horses tested at an abnormally high level.
Syringes used to give Derby and Oaks horses legal anti-bleeding medication also were tested and showed no traces of illegal substances, Scollay said.
Positive tests for any banned substances are extremely rare in the premier races. The most commonly cited example is Dancer's Image, whose victory in the 1968 Kentucky Derby was nullified when tests turned up traces of a painkiller.
In the months since Kentucky enacted its steroid ban, there was one positive test during a grace period before the rule was enforced, but none since, Scollay said