The nation’s most famous horse race is set to be run today in Louisville, Kentucky, and not too long after, samples of each horse’s blood will be sent to a relatively unknown lab in Iowa. Iowa State University’s Racing Chemistry Program conducts drug tests for several states, including Kentucky and the horses at the famed Kentucky Derby.
A test that finds illegal drugs could make a major impact on the outcome, but lab director Walter Hyde says he doesn’t feel any undue pressure in his work. “I’ve never had anyone try to approach me and try to influence the outcome of a case,” Hyde says. He says one of the reasons is that the horses samples are submitted without names and just a barcode number. Hyde says that system keeps the information very limited for the lab.
Hyde says they have no idea which sample goes with which horse or which race. He says they do know which track the sample comes from, but he says the sample could be from any horse among eight to ten samples from however many horses are on each card, so it would be very hard to try and influence the lab results.
Hyde takes another step by not watching races or following the results. Hyde says he wants to keep the relationship very clean and just oversees the analytical aspect of the testing, so he can maintain an honest “I don’t know, I have no idea who won” stance.
“It’s not that I’m not interested, but I think it’s a cleaner relationship and there’s perception by anyone that I have a subjective interest in who might have won and what the results of the tests should be,” Hyde explains.
While the I-S-U program has been testing horses since 1986, recent headlines have focused on human testing for drugs in sports such as baseball. Hyde says there are many parallels between the two. Hyde says there’s quite a bit of connection between the two, as he says both sides look at the testing taking place to see what works if they can use the information in their tests. Hyde says, “There is a growing collaboration, formal collaboration, between some of the laboratories that are doing Olympic style testing for human events and the labs involved in animal performance parimutuel events.”
The I-S-U lab began as a way to test horses running in Iowa, and then expanded to states like Kentucky, and also does testing for horses in Virginia, New Mexico and the Caribbean nations of Trinidad and Tobago.
Hyde and his staff of 18 to 20 in the racing chemistry program test about 35-thousand samples each year.