At its September Board meeting, the Australian Racing Board (ARB) has approved the introduction of formal SCREENING LIMITS for certain therapeutic substances which do have a legitimate place in the racing industry, including their legitimate use to treat horses for welfare reasons.

The ATA has for some time sought clarity on the impact of on-going research and development on the evolution of new technologies by equine science laboratories, which has resulted in increased sensitivity of analysis in the testing of these therapeutic substances and which has enabled more advanced detection than previously possible.

At this point in time, the ARB has identified and assigned Screening Limits for a number of therapeutic substances which are contained in some commonly used equine medications representing a range of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, local anaesthetics and tranquilisers. A list of these can be accessed by CLICKING HERE

The Australian Racing Board has also released an abbreviated Screening Limits Policy which you can view by CLICKING HERE

The ATA has consulted with leading veterinarian Glen Robertson-Smith and our Legal Counsel and Advisor Ross Inglis. They have both advised their strong support for the development and introduction of Screening Limits, from a dual perspective of transparency and the importance of ensuring trainers are provided with updated and better information on the safe and legitimate administration of therapeutic medications.

The following information has been provided by Glenn Robertson-Smith on the introduction of Screening Limits and we urge our members to familiarize themselves with this information and check with their own veterinarians and/or contact the Chief Veterinary Steward in your state for clarification on any relevant issues.



Comment by Glenn Robertson-Smith

I am happy to provide the following information/interpretation of the introduction of screening limits for some twenty therapeutic drugs commonly used in racing.

I understand that rule changes and changes to drug testing may create anxiety amongst trainers and veterinarians alike. However in this case the publication of screening limits will provide trainers and their veterinarians with precise pharmacological data which will remove much of the guess work associated with estimating medication withdrawal periods.

In order to allay the concerns of your members let me make the following points:

1. Laboratory screening limits for therapeutics have existed for many years but have been treated as confidential in-house information and have never been made public. The publication of screening limits provides transparency.

2. One of the main drivers behind Australia adopting and publishing international screening levels has been an international initiative supported by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and the Asian Racing Federation to harmonize international detection times for therapeutic drugs. The main advantages of international harmonization are that the merit of racing performances can be reasonably be compared without the influence of different medication rules and that horses that compete in international races may be treated with confidence that detection times are consistent between racing authorities.

3. The screening limits have been selected by analysts and regulatory veterinarians to be consistent with current Australian detection times. This means there will be no effective change to current withholding times. That is, if trainers and veterinarians are currently using a withholding period for a specific drug based on experience or previously published information, for example the EVA ‘White Book’, there will be no need to change those withdrawal periods. In fact the combination of pharmacokinetic data published by the Rural Industries Research Development Corporation (RIRDC) and published screening limits will allow trainers and their veterinarians to considerably reduce the guess work associated with formulating a recommended withdrawal period.

4. RIRDC is planning to provide Drug Fact Sheets to assist trainers and veterinarians. While the list of drugs is limited to about twenty at the moment, a great deal of work is being done around the world to provide pharmacokinetic and detection time information for many drugs. This work is expensive and time consuming but as the information becomes available it will be made available to the industry.

5. Racing authorities have stressed that screening limits for therapeutic drugs are not drug thresholds in the way that thresholds are used for endogenous substances and potential environmental contaminants. The change to Rule 178 E A was necessary to formalize this fact.

Finally, I would like to add that I believe this is an excellent initiative for the benefit of trainers and veterinarians which will provide transparency, consistency, a degree of international harmonization and, most importantly, a means to practically apply the quality pharmacokinetic data published by RIRDC to formulate reliable recommended withdrawal periods.

Furthermore we need to be mindful that screening limits are a fact of life and that a means to manage the risk of legal challenges to those limits must be addressed by the rules of racing as has been done by the amendments to AR 178.

The alternative to the current initiative is maintaining ‘secret’ screening levels which means that we must guess withdrawal periods based on very limited information or, the adoption of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to medication control which would mean that when any level of drug is detected in a sample a positive result would be called.

In this age of extremely sophisticated and sensitive analytical testing techniques, we certainly don’t want to have to work with a zero tolerance policy.