TCO2 test results should be published for all to see.
by Dean Towers
Canadian-based trainer Jack Darling caused quite a stir last week when he penned a blog imploring the authorities to publish TCO2 test results for all to see.
“Many horses are tested for TCO2 levels each race night. I would like to see all the results posted for every horse and its trainer so that everyone can see them. The results should be posted at the track and online so that everyone has access,” Darling wrote. “I believe that with this policy in place all horsepeople would have the level playing field that we want, at least with regard to TCO2 levels.”
I think Darling is on the right track.
As most know, “milkshaking” has been a relatively common practice, brought in vogue by trainers looking for an edge. About 30 years ago, officials in Australia began taking the practice seriously, because so many trainers were tubing their stock on race day. One study, in 1991, showed 47 per cent of the equine athletes tested over 35mmol/l, and they won 73 per cent of the races. Some horses who won, or reversed form, tested over 50mmol/l. This was compared to standardbreds – as a breed – with normal levels in the 29-32mmol/l range.
Further studies — both in Australia and North America — tested horses for levels at rest, or on race day, and set baselines. These numbers were then tweaked to ensure fairness, should something go wrong. It is one of the reasons the current levels, and adjudication, are in play today.
Australian racing also did one more thing. Exactly as Darling asks, they published every TCO2 result.
Years ago, I was interested in the topic and surfed to the results pages. I datamined a little and subset the data, examining TCO2 levels by barn, and by win percentage.
The result was about as surprising as Somebeachsomewhere winning a qualifier.
• The top barns’ horses continuously tested between 34 and 35mmol/l – right at the top end of the allowable limits.
• The mom and pops, or fair horse stables, tested at windows (around 30mmol/l) the studies said most standardbreds should test at.
• Horses who were low readers in one barn would move into another and suddenly be higher readers.
Even if you’re off helping OJ search for the real killers, you have to admit that those numbers are pretty obvious.
Darling’s question is simple: Why not publish these results the exact same way, right now in North America?
If the data shows almost all horses in a certain barn are at or near the limit each race and the trainer receives a high reading, he or she probably has little to stand on. This would not only save the business money with the appeals process, it would create a live by the sword, die by it responsibility. If the trainer wants to keep pushing the envelope, he or she can, but by the third TCO2 infraction, the business would have strong grounds to be tough.
In similar fashion, if positives occur for a trainer with such a profile, policies like the Gural-WEG rule for stakes races immediately gains merit. You can’t, as an owner, say you didn’t know about a trainer’s reputation, when everyone sees exactly what it is in black and white on the Internet.
In terms of helping the industry move forward on the supply side, if a horse truly is a high reader (it does happen) the data will help show it. If a trainer’s feed program is heavy on alkalizing agents, he or she can adjust to make sure positives do not occur. We often laugh at excuses when it comes to trainer responsibility, but a lot of times it’s not an excuse, but a fact. This helps protect the trainer – in the public eye – when he or she has a bad test, and helps them run a better stable.
The possible downside – and this is a common complaint in harness racing – is that potential owners will not avoid trainers who look to be pushing envelopes, but send them more horses. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, that’s a real concern, but I think it’s a small price to pay. The public (and other owners) will see who these people are, and when they do get a positive, will not rally to their defense like some presently do.
In terms of testing, harness racing – for what seems like a hundred years – has been scared of its own shadow. There are strong factions in the game who believe transparency is an enemy; something to be swept under a rug, in fear it will make the business look bad. That approach has not worked, and will likely never work. Perhaps it’s time to try a new one. Publish the TCO2 test results and let’s see what happens.