horse_steroidsThe recent testimony of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg at a Congressional hearing drove home the point that it is very difficult to determine if equine athletes are on anabolic steroids.

In humans, the tell-tale signs are more obvious – acne breakout, incredible physique on both in male and female users, hair thinning on males, hair growth on females, plus an enhanced performance in the playing field. Most of these physical indications of steroid use do not apply to horses.

In said hearing, Van Berg compared horse training to “chemical warfare” and that there is dearth of scientific proof that would suggest that anabolic steroids make better, stronger, and faster horses.

Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, seemed to agree with the trainer. “It’s an impossible question for us to even answer. A .01 (percent) change in performance would alter the outcome of a 1-mile race 50 percent of the time. That is an impossible change to measure with scientific study,” Waterman said.

However, the issue gets more contentious as anecdotal evidence suggests that anabolic steroids could act as performance boosters.

Rick Dutrow openly admitted that all of his horses are administered with anabolic steroid Winstrol (stanozolol) every month. This drug is not banned in three states where the Triple Crown is held. Dutrow is the trainer of Big Brown, who recently won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness races of the Triple Crown.

Big Brown performed poorly in the Belmont Stakes and some speculated that the reason was because Dutrow did not administer the horse with steroids in the 5-week interval between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

“Everybody is trying to figure out why Big Brown didn’t run,” said Dr. Don Catlin, president of the Anti-Doping Research Institute. “I don’t know why. But I do know if I’m on steroids and if you stop them a couple of weeks ago, I’m going through withdrawal and I’m not going to feel like running. But you can’t test for that.”