LABORATORY

WHAT WE DO

It is the mandate of The National Horseracing Authority, through the application of its Rules and Disciplinary processes, to uphold and protect the integrity of the sport of Thoroughbred horseracing and to zealously safeguard the safety and welfare of both the human and equine participants in this sport.

As part of this function is the responsibility to screen and also be in a position to prosecute for many hundreds of prohibited, forbidden and banned substances in compliance to international racing and quality requirements, policies and guidance.

The National Horseracing Authority’s policy of operating its own Laboratory is in line with that of the majority of international racing jurisdictions. This enables the NHA to, as the regulatory body, to always have direct, strict and proper control over the integrity of the Laboratory and its operations as to ensure that the required standards, capacities and capabilities are upheld at all times.

This Laboratory provides the NHA, in addition to routine prohibited substance screening, with a cost-effective facility to conduct the required research and the development, with the required degree of urgency and intensity, as required for new methods to detect new drugs which constantly emerge as a concern to the racing industry.

The Laboratory provides for the screening of both equine urine and blood specimens for prohibited substances. 

The different substances are differently screened and prosecuted:
  • some at the best possible sensitivity
(for forbidden substances which should never be found in a racehorse)
  • some are only acted upon when these exceed international prosecution screening limits
(for therapeutic substances required to treat the racehorse) and 
some must be quantified during screening and accurately quantified for prosecution 
(for substances found naturally or as contamination or for which international threshold levels
  • are in place)
This screening facilitates effective drug control of pre-race, post-race and out of competition specimens received from all over Southern Africa, throughout the year. The testing of rider samples is also conducted as to ensure that riders are not under the influence of substances which could impair their judgement and which could compromise the safety of both riders and horses.

During the process of screening some specimens and samples could indicate the presence of prohibited or banned substances. As to confirm such results the process of screening is repeated by means of a full re-analysis employing the same and also more specific methods. When the substance is again shown present and again at a level exceeding the decision level, further action is required.

Within the confirmation section of the Laboratory a third analysis is then conducted to confirm the identity of the substance. Such analysis is strictly to the international horseracing standard and a formal analysis report provides details of such compliance.

In addition to the positive findings which the Laboratory conducts on the Original specimens (A samples) of the NHA, the Laboratory also acts as an approved facility for the confirmatory reference analysis (on B samples) of drug positive specimens also from other countries. This Laboratory has done so for England, France, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Morocco and Singapore and since the year 2000 there have been more than 130 such confirmatory analyses for these countries.

Analytical Capabilities
Extraction and detection techniques

The following extraction, chromatographic and detection techniques and instrumentation are available and are employed in the Laboratory during its day to day operations:

  • Liquid/liquid extraction
  • Solid phase extraction
  • GC/MS/MS (gas phase triple quadrupole mass spectrometry)
  • LC/HRMS Orbitrap (liquid phase high resolution mass spectrometry)
  • LC/HRMS/MS Orbitrap (liquid phase high resolution mass spectrometry with MS/MS)
  • LC/MS/MS (liquid phase triple quadrupole mass spectrometry)
  • LC/MS/MS QTrap (liquid phase triple quadrupole hybrid ion trap mass spectrometry)
  • Enzyme linked immunoassays (ELISA)
Drug classes routinely screened

The following drug classes are or can be screened for at the Laboratory as part of horseracing and animal sports contract analysis:

  • Anabolic steroids (natural and synthetic substances, injectable and oral)
  • Anabolic steroid esters (pro-drugs)
  • Analgesics
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Beta-agonists
  • Beta-blockers
  • Bronchodilators
  • Corticosteroids (injectable, systemic and intraarticular and nebulised)
  • Diuretics
  • Local anaesthetics
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Narcotics
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's)
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Tranquilisers
  • Protein hormones such as growth hormone (GH), erythropoietin (EPO) and ACTH
  • Substances forbidden in horseracing
  • Other less prominent drug classes

Industry Guidance
Guidance in assisting with the therapeutic treatment of horses

The racehorse is a hard working athlete which will experience disease and conditions of injury during its racing life. As the welfare of the horse is important the NHA has a responsibility to assist with therapeutic drug substance administration guidance (therapeutic substance detection times). We must however ensure that the welfare of the horse is maintained in that substances which affect the horse are not present at therapeutic levels on race day as to effect race performance and / or mask injury and pain.

International and Asian screening limits for therapeutic substances

It is important not to prosecute therapeutic substances, which are legitimately used in equine medicine, at low levels where these do not affect the horse. International and Asian screening limits (ISL’s and ASL’s) for therapeutic substances provide such guidance. These screening limits are concentration values which are internationally decided. Below these limits (concentrations) there is no therapeutic effect and therefore a positive finding is not declared. Compliance of the NHA to these is important to ensure that a sensible, internationally approved standard is applied.
Substances which have the possibility to be present in residue levels in equine feed (known as feed contaminants) are also considered. International residue limits (IRL’s) are adopted by the NHA to prosecute findings of such substances when these exceed background levels and are indicative of exogenous administration. The ISL’s, ASL’s and IRL’s which are adopted by the NHA is provided on this website.

The NHA and IFHA websites provide a list of Detection Times for therapeutic substances

While the screening limits provide Laboratories with an action level for positive findings, a “detection time”  is the time period following administration during which the screening limit is still exceeded. A withdrawal time which is a suitably a longer period of time is advised (e.g. more than 2 days longer), at the discretion of the advising veterinarian. This guidance is provided on this website.

The NHA and IFHA prohibited substance Thresholds

Substances must not be prosecuted at levels where these could be found naturally in the horse, its feed or its environment. International, official threshold values are in place for such substances. A positive finding is only declared when the relevant threshold level is proved to be exceeded in the specimens. For this purpose an accurate quantification of the concentration is conducted to provide an actual level. This result and process is shown as part of the positive finding report. The international prohibited substance thresholds which are adopted by the NHA are provided on this website.

Guideline for the Classification of Prohibited Substances and Penalties

Different prohibited substances have different effects (of different severity) on the horse, its welfare and have an impact on horseracing. Findings of these different substances must therefore have different prosecution severity (classification) and penalty. This classification guideline explains prohibited substances classes 1 to 5, with class 1 being most severe and inclusive of forbidden substances. Also included in this document is a list of the local veterinary and human substances considered most prevalent for equine treatment in horseracing in South Africa, and some clarification and guidance. This Guideline for the Classification of Prohibited Substances and Penalties document of the NHA is provided on this website.

Forbidden substances

These are substances which are internationally defined as “substances which have no place in the racehorse at any time”.  In this respect the NHA is highly aligned to IFHA guidance. These are Class 1 substances with high penalties and are substances which are not easy to source. Forbidden substances are explained in Rule 74 of the NHA and are listed on the NHA website as Appendix M. This website provides this guidance.

Substances which are not prohibited (Exempted)

There is a range of substances which are medications important for the treatment of medical conditions in horses which do not affect the performance of the racehorse. These are not prohibited substances and included substances such as antibiotics (antimicrobials), anti-parasitics, anti-viral, anti-fungal medication and registered vaccines against infectious agents in horses. This list of Exempted substances is provided within Appendix N of the Rules of the NHA. This website provides this guidance.

Rider Banned Substances Guidelines document

The purpose of this document is to provide an important reference to riders, stipes and rider sample collectors regarding the type of substances which are banned to be present in riders on race days. Especially important is the guidance on the use of therapeutic and especially pain medications (which result in morphine to be released) and recommended withdrawal periods. This is very important as some could result in positive findings of banned substances. This website provides this Rider Banned Substances Guidelines document.

Contract Analyses
From its many years of horseracing analysis, this Laboratory has extensive experience in the detection and confirmation of a wide range of substances and difficult matrixes (equine urine, limited blood volume, meat samples and pigeon faeces) at a low part per billion screening sensitivity. This makes the following contract analyses possible:

  • Clinical analysis, efficacy, bio-equivalence and bio-availability studies which could include the detection and quantification of a variety of small drugs and residue molecules in trace amounts in urine, faeces, blood (plasma and serum) and tissues (meat, fat, kidney, liver) samples.
  • Research, method development and validation of methodologies such as the above, as required.
Testing for Equine Sports and Disciplines

The control of drug use in international sport is undertaken by WADA (The World Anti-Doping Agency).  This is reflected in the World Anti-Doping Code 2015, Article 16 - Doping Control for Animals Competing in Sport: "In any sport that includes animals in competition the National Federation for that sport shall establish and implement anti-doping rules for the animals included in that sport". This specifies the requirement of drug screening in all animal sports.

This Laboratory has extensive experience and a large analysis platform for pre-competition, post-competition and out-of-competition racehorse screening is in place for the comprehensive screening of plasma and urine (equine and other animals) for drug substances.  This is offered to other animal sport clients at a favourable price with a relatively short analysis turnaround time. The option of prohibited substances confirmation as formal positive findings with a detailed report is also in place, similar to horseracing. An equine specimen screen is offered which is compliant to the requirements of the Federation Equestrian Internationale (FEI). The FEI is the world governing body for the equestrian sports such as Jumping, Dressage, Eventing, Driving and Endurance.

Our Equine Sport clients include:
  • SA Equestrian Federation (SAEF)
  • The Saddlebred Society of SA
  • The Endurance Riding Association of SA (ERASA)
  • The Namibia Endurance Riding Association
  • SA Hackney Ponies
  • The Arab Show Horse Society of South Africa (AHSSA)
  • SA Boerperd Breeders
Horse urine and plasma specimens from horse pre-purchase examinations and soundness examinations are analysed for service providers of veterinary clinics including:
  • Idexx Laboratories
  • Pathcare Laboratories
Specimen integrity, security and traceability systems

While the effective screening of specimens is the most important aspect of sports testing, for successful prosecution this must be combined with a suitable system of specimen integrity, security and traceability. The integrity, security and traceability of specimens between the time of collection in the field and receipt for testing at the Laboratory must be considered.

We can provide the procedure of specimen security which is typically employed in horseracing worldwide and customise this for our clients.  This involves specimens to be sealed in plastic bottles with unique metal seals.  These bottles are transported to the testing facility with a double seal mechanism.  There is also the option of collecting two separate specimens from the horse at the time of specimen collection.  Only the one specimen (the A Sample) is analysed while the other (reference specimen, the B Sample) is kept in a secure, sealed state at our Laboratory.  This specimen can then be investigated at a later stage, possibly by another Laboratory, to confirm the test result of the initially analysed specimen. 

We can assist with the supply of such materials as “test kits”. The official procedures required for the required compliance and associated forms can additionally be designed and supplied.

Race Pigeon Faeces analysis

It is clear from the personal and financial gains within pigeon racing that the sport is highly vulnerable to exploitation.  The use of prohibited substances is an issue which presents itself in this regard, and there is evidence that such practices occur worldwide.  This damages the integrity, image and value of sport, and contravenes the fundamental principles of sportsmanship and fair competition.

During 2002 our Laboratory partnered with the SA Nationals Pigeon Organisation (SANPO) in establishing the required procedures (called the SANPO Manual), rules, infrastructure and knowledge required for effective specimen collection enforcement, prohibited drug screening and prohibited substance prosecution of race pigeons employing pigeon faeces testing.  Research into race pigeon testing also started during at that time with us visiting other international race pigeon screening laboratories and consulting other pigeon racing bodies. Drug administration studies were undertaken on 16 pigeons, studying 8 drugs at the University of Pretoria.  The objectives were to develop cost-effective methodologies for efficient drug extraction and detection and to study drug excretion times and natural steroid profiles.  Prohibited performance enhancing drug preparations obtained locally and overseas were analysed to confirm the effectiveness of the drug screening. Several additional pigeon preparation administration trials and population studies of natural occurring substances in pigeons and pigeon feed have been conducted to date. Our experience was increased by many pigeon sample positive cases which were confirmed and successfully prosecuted. The pigeon faeces screening methodology currently in place has been developed from more than 12 years of experience in this field. It is however constantly being updated and improved as new screening techniques and methodologies become available.

Our race pigeon clients include and we have conducted analysis for the following:
  • The Koninklijke Belgische Duivenliefhebbersbond (KBDB, the Belgium Federation)
  • SA National Pigeon Organisation (SANPO)
  • The Royal Pigeon Racing Association (England)
  • The Irish South Road Federation of Pigeon Clubs (Ireland)
  • France
  • Italy
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • USA

2.    SCREENING LIMITS
§    International FHA Regulation/IFHA & ARF
§    Asian ARF Regulation
§    Residue Limits
§    Detection Times

3.    SUBSTANCE THRESHOLDS

4.    EXEMPTED SUBSTANCES

5.    QUALITY MANAGEMENT

ISO/IEC 17025 Guidelines

The Laboratory has had an ISO (International Standard of Organisation) Quality Management System in place since 1994. Currently the operations and analyses of the Laboratory are conducted in accordance with the international quality standards of ISO/IEC17025 and the international requirements of horseracing.

This compliance is physically inspected on a regular basis by an independent local accreditation body for:
  • the range of substances to be screened and prosecuted
  • the sensitivity of detection and prosecution
  • the methodology, procedures and standards for both detection (screening) and prosecution
In compliance to these quality and regulatory requirements the following are in place (these total 495 pages):
  • 25 formal policies,
  • 30 methods and
  • 124 procedures
An important mechanism as check of the quality and racing requirement compliance of the Laboratory is proficiency testing programs. At our Laboratory this includes:

  • Both external and internal proficiency specimens and samples.
  • Both positive specimen and negative specimen testing (the latter at other independent racing laboratories).
  • Both prohibited and banned substances in both equine specimens and rider (human) samples.
Memberships and Compliance

In applying the quality standard of ISO/IEC17025 there is ensurance within this program to also provide compliance and inspection to the compliance to the international standards of the following international structures and bodies:

•    The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA)
•    The Asian Racing Federation (ARF)
•    The Association of Official Racing Chemists (AORC)
•    The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation for Horseracing (ILAC-G7)

6.    GUIDELINES ON PROHIBITED SUBSTANCES

§    Classification of Substances
§    Cobalt
§    Clenbuterol
§    Guidelines for Penalties

7.    RIDER BANNED SUBSTANCES
§    Guidelines