This year, the Kentucky Derby resumed its normal running date and allowed spectators to participate. Racing fans flocked to Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, sporting their fancy hats, dresses, suits, and matching ties. Twenty horses broke from the gate with their eyes on the $3 million dollar prize. Yet, only one can be the Kentucky Derby winner. Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit, a horse purchased for $1,000, claimed the win in the 147th Kentucky Derby.
However, Medina Spirit’s post-race drug test showed 21 picograms of betamethasone in his system. Bob Baffert denies that there is any way that Medina Spirit had betamethasone present in his system. A picogram is a trillionth of a gram. Therefore, potentially not enough to significantly alter this horse’s performance in the Kentucky Derby. This presents an issue: it is illegal for horses to race with this particular drug in their system? So what is betamethasone, and what does it do for horses?
What is Betamethasone?
Betamethasone is commonly used in the racing world. BETAVET (Betamethasone Sodium Phosphate) is a corticosteroid that is injected into a racehorse’s joints or bloodstream to decrease inflammation. In addition, one can apply the drug topically, administered orally, or given under the skin around inflamed soft tissue.
“There is an antibiotic betamethasone spray that is commonly used to treat wounds or skin irritation,” said Dr. Mary Scollay to Horse Racing Nation in a recent interview (HRN). “I do not have any data on what sort of concentrations in the blood or urine that results in.” Scollay is the executive director of the Lexington Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Classified as a Class C drug, Betamethasone, has a withdrawal time of 14 days before a race when injected. Therefore, if a trainer wants to inject a racehorse with BETAVET, they must do it 14-days before the race.
The Technicalities of Betamethasone
Scollay claims the drug is not a bad substance. “It is a substance we want to control in proximity to a race, largely to protect the safety and welfare of the horse because anti-inflammatories have the ability to mask signs of inflammation. These can be warning signs that there is an injury present that could escalate into something far worse if pressured (HRN).”
Alternatively, Scollay illuded when applied topically the horse could ingest Betamethasone cream if he licks it off the wound. On May 11th, Baffert did mention that he used a topical ointment containing betamethasone on Medina Spirit. “And I don’t have any data on that either,” she said. “So a concentration alone without any information on dose, route of administration, timing of administration you cannot draw any conclusions just through a concentration alone (HRN).”
However, the topical use of the drug does not have any restrictions or guidelines. This means that trainers and owners are able to use this at free will. “Should the horse be considered for a race if he’s got an open wound? Sometimes there is so much focus on when should you stop using the medication that you forget to look at the condition that warranted the treatment,” Scollay said (HRN). “Is that condition consistent with an ethical decision to run the horse?”
A Price to Pay
Surely, there are several penalties for an owner or trainer whose horse tests positive for betamethasone. The first offense for a trainer for the use of the drug is a $1,000 fine. If there is a second offense within a year, the trainer is ordered to pay a $1,500 fine and serves a 15-day suspension. For the owners, a first-time offense means disqualification and the loss of the purse. In addition, the horse must pass another drug test and exam before he is eligible to compete in another race. A second offense leads to disqualification, loss of purse, and the horse to remain on a veterinarian’s list for 45 days.
As of May 16th, Churchill Downs did not rule on disqualification of Medina Spirit and Bob Baffert from the Derby. They are waiting for a split sample result to come back from the lab. Although, these test results will not be back for several weeks. In addition, if Churchill Downs decides to forfeit Medina Spirit’s win, he will be the second horse to be disqualified from the Kentucky Derby for testing positive for a banned substance.
All Natural Alternatives
Here at Excel Supplements, we offer several products that combat joint pain and natural alternatives for daily use. Interestingly, our ExcelEQ ProElite supplement contains a balance of plant-based omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 acids. All of our benefits come from two main ingredients: Camelina sativa and CamOlive. The benefits of feeding this oil consist of increased joint mobility, muscle development, skin, and coat health, help with hindgut and foregut ulcers, and increased bioavailability in the digestion of the horse. Simply, just two ounces of ExcelEQ ProElite a day is all that you need to feed your horse.
Another replacement to betamethasone ointments and creams is our ExcelRescue. This is an all-natural salve that promotes the healing of scratches, abrasions, minor cuts, and open wounds. It’s made with all-natural antioxidants and a balance of plant-based omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 acids, Camelina sativa, pure beeswax, honey, and avocado oil. Also, the vitamin E present in the ExcelRescue also promotes new hair growth. It is safe to use on any part of your horse! Both of these products are safe to use on performance horses competing in any discipline and will not test. Thus, meaning fewer worries for you!
May 17: Bob Baffert and horses in his program are ineligible in any race affiliated with the New York Racing Association. Read more about Baffert’s suspension and the reasoning from NYRA here.