Trainers who innocently take a panadol on race night risk contaminating their horses and getting a positive swab under the racing industry's controversial super senstitive drug testing regime.
That warning came after a judicial hearing in Auckland yesterday when it was revealed how Waikato pacer Precious Mach almost certainly came to test positive to the human pain medication Tramadol.
Cambridge trainer Nicky Chilcott told how she was flabbergasted when told her pacer, after testing clear in New Zealand, was found on restesting in Hong Kong to be positive to her own back pain pills.
The horse had not been treated for any injury before she won a race at Auckland on April 27, 2012, no equine preparation contained Tramadol, and her pills, kept only at her home and in her driving bag, had never been near the stable.
But evidence was given that an infinitesmal amount of the drug most likely entered the horse's system when Chilcott put her hands in the horse's mouth to fix her tongue tie immediately before the race.
And in supporting evidence from Kentucky authority Professor Thomas Tobin, it was revealed that contamination from human medication was an emerging problem worldwide - because of new, sophisticated testing - with most of the cases traced back to tongue ties.
''Never in a million years would you think you could do that,'' Chilcott said afterwards, relieved when told by Judicial Control Authority (JCA) committee chairman Geoff Hall that she faced only a fine, not a suspension or disqualification as had been sought by the Racing Integrity Unit (RIU).
''People must take open pills all the time at the races and this highlights how careful you have to be. I'm over the top now. I wash my hands every time after taking my pills.''
Chilcott told how she suffered from chronic back pain, couldn't get out of bed in the mornings without taking Tramadol, and 99 times out of 100 took some on racenight.
The only logical explanation for the contamination on April 27 was that she inadvertently got some of the pills' contents on her hands from a damaged blister pack of pills.
''I'm just so thankful that I took some of them back to the chemist or they'd have thought I was making up the story,'' Chilcott said.
An affidavit from Duke St Chemist pharmacist Grant Clayton confirmed Chilcott returned a packet of damaged Tramadol capsules some time near the end of April. The foil was open and the contents of the decaying capsules exposed with the gelatin casing damaged either by water or heat.
Chilcott's counsel Murray Branch told Hall and fellow JCA member Murray McKechnie that rather than the high degree of negligence argued by RIU lawyer Chris Lange, this was an outcome which could not reasonably have been anticipated.
''No one could ever have suspected that a drug used in humans could be transferred to a horse in this way. The New Zealand lab couldn't even pick it up. It was the minutest of traces,'' Branch said.
Tobin's evidence said the 100 picograms per millilitre of the metabolite O-desmethyltramadol detected in Hong Kong was equivalent to one second in your life if you were 320 years old. One picogram is one part per trillion.
''To my knowledge it is the lowest concentration of O-desmethyltramadol ever reported in a horse. There is no possibility whatsoever of a pharmacological effect on the racing performance [of the horse].''
It was also 500 times less than the now well established 50 ng/ml cut-off point set by the British Horseracing Authority for morphine metabolites in urine.
Tobin said, in another illustration of how tiny the amount detected was, airline pilots could legally fly with a cocaine concentration 1000 times higher than the Tramadol found in Hong Kong's exceptionally sensitive analysis.
Tramadol was poorly absorbed orally in the horse (3 per cent) and experiments he and his colleagues at Michigan State University undertook showed no statistically significant changes at increasing doses.
Harness Racing New Zealand veterinary consultant Andrew Grierson said while few studies had been done on Tramadol and it was not his field of expertise, he did not agree with some of Tobin's statements.
It was impossible to tell from one urine sample, how much of the drug had been given to a horse.
''There is good evidence showing certain opioids of this group can have an excitement effect on horses at extremely low doses,'' he said.
''In my opinion it cannot be inferred that when a very low level is detected, it is not likely to have an effect.''
Chilcott pleaded guilty to breaching the prohibited substance rule after the RIU dropped the more serious charge of administration, Branch critical of that charge having being laid in the first place.
''There is not one scrap of evidence to support it,'' Branch said.
Hall said he would quantify Chilcott's fine after submissions on costs at the end of next week.
Courtesy of Barry Lichter
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