by Trey Nosrac
I was gasping for breath on a park bench when my phone vibrated. I had just logged a solid 50 yards with William Shakespaw. He is a Basset Hound who belongs to my neighbor, Phil, a writer recovering from gallbladder surgery.
The incoming Skype was from TS, the Silicon Valley sage I chauffeured around on his Ohio visit a few weeks ago. I placed my phone in front of William Shakespaw’s snout and pushed the connect button.
TS chuckled and said, “Why the sad face? “
I turned the camera away from the dog toward my mug, “Hello Global Techie Development Leader. Are you ready to hire me to save the world, or at least to save harness racing?”
“Ready to hire you for another ride. I’ll be back at the airport tomorrow afternoon at three. I’m heading back to my mom’s. Let’s do this off the books.”
“Under the radar, my favorite way to fly. I am at your service.”
The next afternoon he ambled through the glass doors of the airport, shrugged off his backpack and tossed it into the back seat. He slid into the front seat and gave me a fist bump. My passenger was one of the most important people in the world, and I was, well, me. Still, he gave off the vibe of a regular person.
He opened with business, “My mom is having her hip replaced on Friday. I’d like to put you on retainer to be available. Can you do that?”
“Can do. Near unemployment allows great flexibility. Your last tip was enough to keep me off the road and get me into trouble for a month. My schedule is clear, just figure on a half hour for me to get to the farm.”
With all the subtlety of horse kicking the back wall of a wooden stall, I got back to business.
“So are you mega-conglomerates going to save harness racing?”
“I never said that. I did say that online sports gambling will happen soon and horse racing needs to be prepared, to find a place.”
“Find a place, be prepared…what the hell does that mean?”
He was silent for a beat, then said, “Twenty-five years ago, my breakthrough project was a steel mill in rural Alabama. They sent robotic engineers, data people and my computer to a struggling, grimy, noisy, dangerous, money-losing beehive with 212 employees. In less than a year, the buildings were like a small hospital complex with a staff of 33 who never touched steel and made twice the product at half the price.”
“I’m guessing you weren’t man of the year.”
He grimaced, “I stayed in a hotel two counties away, kept my mouth shut and crept into town wearing sunglasses.”
“That’s the same MO as my ex-father-in-law, Bent Fingers DeLillo.”
“The point is — that mill could not make the needed changes. The process of making steel had changed. If we didn’t change the mill, it would have closed down completely. You can’t stop change. You either get into the space capsule or ride the horse and buggy to oblivion.”
“You believe you could renovate harness horse racing?”
“Definitely. If, and this is a big if — if we had free rein to make massive changes.”
“Well, that will never happen.”
“Probably not. Change challenges everyone. The bigger the change, the more resistance. When we control the pipelines, we will choose some sports and influence what flows through others.”
“So, Silicon man, you say that conglomerates are churning away ready to pounce on online sports gambling. What is the holdup? Why don’t you already have online gambling in your portfolio?”
“We keep our projects close to the vest. Let’s just say that a sports gambling renaissance is inevitable. We will dominate, but the big changes depend on a few items now on the table but not yet fully resolved.”
“Legislation that will wind up in the Supreme Court. Cases that will have huge ramifications are taking place in a matter of weeks. Patents we hold are pending. Drugs are another.”
“If we are to reach the sports gambling audiences we have in mind, wagering on doped athletes or doped animals must be tightly controlled. Doping is especially important in horse racing because animal rights organizations can cause plenty of problems.”
“Good luck with that swamp.”
“We don’t need luck. We have bioscience and technology. Lack of resources is the problem, not lack of knowledge. If the folks responsible for horse racing today had massive resources to monitor races and used those resources with determination, the game would be drug-free. We have those massive resources. We have the technology. New technology happens every day. I was reading a public domain study on my flight. I’ll forward the link, one of many of possibilities for the future. The future, my friend, is where you and I, along with your beloved harness racing, will live.”
“My man, everytime you climb into my car, I feel like I’m talking to an alien time traveler.”
It’s all about perspective. My company plays longball. We don’t have to worry about paying the bills tomorrow. We don’t have to worry about failing.”
“Will horse racing be in your longball game?”
“Maybe, but it’s complicated. We see sports gambling with a tremendous upside. Every sport is slightly different. Horse racing has pluses and minuses, and one obstacle that will blow your mind. There’s the farm, we will talk more next time.”
“What’s this! A cliffhanger, a tease?”
He grinned, “Absolutely. Making our customers come back is part of our Silicon Valley secret sauce.”
That evening, I clicked the link TS sent.
It will now be easier, faster and cheaper to catch athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs.
A new method of testing blood and urine developed by University of Waterloo researchers cuts down the time required to analyze samples from 30 minutes to 55 seconds. They are working to reduce it even further, to 10 seconds per sample, by using a fully automated workflow.
“That’s fast enough to screen every Olympic athlete every day,” said Dr. Germán Augusto Gómez-Ríos, a postdoctoral fellow with Waterloo’s Pawliszyn Research Group.
When it comes to large-scale drug screening, the cost is also a factor. The group is working with industry to reduce the cost from an average of $20 to $100 to just a few dollars per sample.
This more efficient process is made possible through the development of a rapid on-site screening technology called coated blade-spray mass spectrometry that can detect more than 100 drugs using just one drop of blood or a few microlitres of urine on a coated sample strip at the parts per billion level. That’s like detecting a sugar cube dissolved in an Olympic sized swimming pool.
“If you know you’re being continuously watched, you’re less likely to cheat in the first place,” says Gómez-Ríos, who cites the psychological advantage of having the chemical analysis take place in front of the athlete on a regular basis.
The technology relies on a method Waterloo’s Prof. Janusz Pawliszyn developed in the 1990s called solid-phase microextraction (SPME), which uses a solid coating on a sample probe to selectively extract chemical substances from the blood, saliva, urine and even plasma. After a simple washing step, the probe can then be placed in front of the mass spectrometer for analysis.
Coupled with recent advances in analytical instrumentation, which also includes Direct Analysis in Real Time and Open-Port Probe mass spectrometry, Pawliszyn’s SPME methods are poised to revolutionize drug testing everywhere from sports competitions and roadside checkpoints, to emergency triage and workplaces.
Gómez-Ríos further shared that as a drug screening technique, coated blade spray-MS is ideal. It reduces tedious sample preparation to a single step and, in the near future, it will be interfaced to a simplified mass spectrometer that has been shrunken to the size of a PC desktop and can be set up anywhere.
“The important thing here is to avoid false negatives,” says Gómez-Ríos. “That would be a disaster.”
Under such a screening regime, athletes who test positive in any way, for a slight misstep or full-on cheating, would then be followed up with a full analysis by standard methods.
“The idea is not to do a full analysis with every sample, only the positive ones,” says Dr. Nathaly Reyes-Garces, a postdoctoral fellow who helped develop the protocol.”
“Coated Blade Spray has demonstrated to provide reliable results for different compounds in the concentration range required by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). A sample that shows a positive result can then be subjected to full confirmatory analysis.”
— published last month in the Journal of Bioanalysis.