Your Racehorse Tested Positive for a Regulated Substance, Time Is of the Essence

Mary Westman is an Oklahoma attorney, Morgan horse breeder and registered nurse with an MBA. Mary provides legal representation in all aspects of equine-related businesses and activities including legal advising, business formations, preparing or reviewing contracts, litigating equine disputes and equine welfare advocacy.

This article will briefly discuss the regulation of drugs in Oklahoma horse racing and the critical steps to be followed should a test come back positive for a regulated substance.

The Oklahoma Horse Racing Act (OHRA), Okla. Stat. tit 3A, §200 et seq., provides the framework by which horse racing is conducted in Oklahoma. Among other things, the OHRA establishes the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (the Commission), which is charged with regulating horse racing within the state by creating and enforcing rules and regulations. The OHRA’s stated purpose and intent is set forth as follows:

In the interest of the public health, safety, and welfare, it is hereby declared to be the purpose and intent of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Act to vest in the Commission plenary power to promulgate rules and regulations for the forceful control of race meetings held in this state. The rules and regulations shall:

  1. encourage agriculture and the breeding of horses in this state; and
  2. maintain race meetings held in this state of the highest quality and free of any horse racing practices which are corrupt, incompetent, dishonest, or unprincipled; and
  3. dissipate any cloud of association with the undesirable and maintain the appearance as well as the fact of complete honesty and integrity of horse racing in this state; and
  4. generate public revenues. Okla. Stat. tit. 3A, § 203.7.

Under the authority granted to it by the Oklahoma legislature, the Commission creates and periodically changes the rules of racing. The rules, revised in both August and September of this year, are comprehensive and can be found on the Commission’s website. Rules and regulations related to prohibited practices and equine testing are outlined in chapter 45. According to the Commission’s rules, the purpose of chapter 45 is “to protect the integrity of horse racing, safeguard the health of horses, and defend the interests of the public and racing participants through the prohibition or control of all substances. …” OAC 325:45-1-1.

It is beyond the scope of this article to list each prohibited or controlled substance outlined in chapter 45, but anyone licensed to race horses in Oklahoma should be well acquainted with all that chapter 45 regulates. When a horse tests positive for a regulated substance, the burden to prove no violation occurred shifts to the trainer or owner. OAC 325:45-1-4(g).

As mentioned above, the Commission not only creates the rules of racing, it also enforces them through a quasi-judicial process. Just as chapter 45 outlines the rules for regulating substances, the Commission rules also outline the process for investigating and appealing a positive drug test. Failure to follow the rules, to include the time frames for requesting a split test, will result in a waiver of the right to appeal any action that is taken because of the positive test.

In addition to preserving the right to appeal, timely investigation of a positive drug test is also important from the standpoint of evaluating whether or not the horse’s environment contributed to the positive drug test. To introduce mitigating evidence of environmental contamination, you must be able to test the stall, bedding, feed, supplements and even the horse’s handlers in order to show the horse was not intentionally given a prohibited or regulated substance. The more time that passes between the date of collection and the date of investigation, the more difficult it will be for a credible argument of environmental contamination to be made.

In case an investigation is necessary, good records should be kept of stall management, feed and supplement lot numbers, medication administration, and when grooms and other handlers worked with the horse, etc. Moreover, trainers should ensure that measures are taken to restrict access to the horses in their charge to protect against the nefarious actions of third parties.

Timeliness is the theme of this article on defending against a positive drug test. It all starts with keeping timely and accurate records on the management of the horse. In the event of a positive drug test, it then moves to the timely, written request for a split sample testing. And then, of course, it moves on to the timely appeal process. A well-researched and drafted appeal can go nowhere if the time frames outlined in the Commission’s rules are not strictly observed.

This article is intended for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This article originally appeared in Oklahoma Horses magazine as a part of Mary’s regular legal column.