The ink was not even dry on my last column, “The truth in horse racing”, when the New York Racing Association (NYRA) decided to ban Bob Baffert from competing at any of the major state tracks.
This was to include Belmont Park which hosts the third leg of the Triple Crown — the Belmont Stakes on June 5. The NYRA cited as the reason, the ongoing investigation of a horse’s failed drug test after the Kentucky Derby and the number of recently failed drug tests at other tracks.
Followers of this column know that I have an incredible passion for horses, starting with my ornery pony. Many pet parents treat their horses as pets and companion animals. Horses are used for therapy. Not to mention the fact that the advancement of mankind was off the back of a horse. Yet it seems that once money is involved, they are classed as livestock and there is a no-holds-barred policy on maximizing the asset.
As a little girl I was just fixated on the beautiful race horses we saw on television. After Secretariat won the Triple Crown, I could not stop drawing and painting “Big Red.” I obsessed over the bloodlines of all the famous race horses. Many wonderful books were written about Man O’ War, Black Gold, War Admiral and on and on. Not once did I ever suspect any wrongdoing with race horses until later in life.
Many years ago, my partner mentioned some scuttle he had heard about race horse doping. At the time he was the biochemist at a popular compounding pharmacy for humans and animals. The pharmacy had decided to add an equine division and it hired a veterinarian who had been a former State Vet and also a race track vet.
He and the vet had both attended an international equine conference next to Churchill Downs in Lexington, Ky. where the Derby is held.
This vet had already explained to the biochemist that in some cases it was literally a backyard chemistry experiment in many stables. Trainers hoped to combine drugs, supplements, legal and illegal components, steroids and everything to get the edge. You really only need to be 1/16 of a second better to win.
The story goes that some of the high-profile trainers were moving through the convention and this vet said he had heard that they were looking into the use of a snail venom to use under the radar in race horses.
The sea snail is called Conus magas or the “magical cone.” It is a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Conidae. These primitive snails are beautiful but venomous and predatory, and have a unique way of killing their prey. The neurotoxic peptides, — conotoxin, that is prized, is extracted from the venom and is a powerful analgesic.
These conotoxins have been found to be 100 to 1000 times more potent than morphine without the addictive qualities. The synthetic form is a drug known as, intrathecal ziconotide (ITZ) and was first discovered in 1980. This was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004 for the use in humans under the name Prialt and can only be administered by infusion into cerebrospinal fluid, but not orally due to an inability to cross the blood/brain barrier.
A 2019 article in Harnesslink states the following about this chemical, “Deadly sea snail venom used as illegal drug!”
According to the article, “It is unclear in which state the latest fad is said to have emerged, but the Herald understands multiple racing authorities have been tipped off about its use and developed laboratory testing to weed out those who have dabbled in the product.
“The substance is not entirely new to the industry and was understood to have been in use more than decade ago, but until recently had not again been on the radar of racing officials.
“It’s understood to dissolve from a horse’s system very quickly and can help numb any pain before heading to the racetrack.”
Thus, you have a component that could relieve all pain and not be detectable, at least initially. Another way to cheat and win.
Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes, and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at email@example.com.