Trainer Bob Baffert this week was handed a 15-day suspension due to overages of Lidocaine found in the post-race samples of Charlatan and Gamine after each won on the May 2 Arkansas Derby (G1) program at Oaklawn Park. Baffert's attorney, W. Craig Robertson III of Lexington, Ky., on Friday circulated the following document on the role of Lidocaine in horse racing.
Baffert is appealing the suspension.
This fact sheet provides clarifying information about the 15-day suspension of Hall of Fame and Triple-Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert by the Arkansas Racing Commission and why it is being appealed that you can source for any stories you are planning. Interviews can be arranged with veterinarians, scientists, researchers, and horsemen to provide expert commentary.
What is Lidocaine?
Lidocaine is a therapeutic medication used as a local anesthetic in horses and humans.
Is Lidocaine banned in horse racing?
No. Lidocaine is not a banned substance in racehorses, it is a regulated substance. It is legal and recognized as a therapeutic medication. Any report that Lidocaine is “banned” or “illegal” is simply WRONG.
Was Lidocaine intentionally administered to Charlatan or Gamine?
No. This is not a case of intentional administration. Instead, both horses were unknowingly and innocently exposed to Lidocaine by an employee who was wearing a Salon Pas patch on his back. Unbeknowst to the employee, that brand of patch contains Lidocaine and it is believed that Lidocaine from the patch was innocently transferred from the employee’s hands to the horses through the application of tongue ties.
What amounts of Lidocaine were supposedly found in the systems of Gamine and Charlatan following their races on May 2 and why was Bob Baffert suspended?
Charlatan’s test allegedly revealed 46 picograms of the metabolite of Lidocaine. Gamine’s test allegedly revealed 185 picograms of the metabolite of Lidocaine. A picogram is a trillionth of a gram. These are trace amounts that are scientifically insignificant. These miniscule amounts of the metabolite of Lidocaine in a thousand pound animal would have no effect on either horse. The trace amounts are also consistent with innocent exposure as opposed to intentional administration.
Arkansas’ rules state that a horse cannot have more than 20 picograms of Lidocaine in its system following a race and this served as the basis for the suspension. Unfortunately, Arkansas’ 20 picogram threshold is based on the sensitivity of modern day testing and not on any pharmacology in the horse. In other words, the rule is set at 20 picograms because that is the level testing can detect, not because it is scientifically significant in any way.
In fact, veterinary experts have concluded that the levels of the metabolite of Lidocaine in Charlatan and Gamine were so small they would have had no effect of any kind on either horse. This is one of the major reasons why the Arkansas rulings are being appealed. The regulatory bodies need to catch up to the sensitivity of modern day testing by making sure that honest trainers and owners are not punished for findings that are the result of innocent human or environmental exposure and which have no pharmacology in the horse.
In other words, if a finding of a substance such as a metabolite of Lidocaine in this case is simply because we have super sensitive testing measures, but it’s forensically and scientifically insignificant, we should not be calling those cases “positives” and hurting reputations and the entire horse racing industry as a result.
Does Lidocaine enhance the performance of racehorses?
No. In fact, as set forth above, at the levels found in Charlatan and Gamine, Lidocaine would have no effect on either horse whatsoever. If follows that, if there is no pharmacological effect on either horse, there certainly was no performance enhancing effect. As such, the presence of the trace amounts of the metabolite of Lidocaine in these cases had zero effect on the outcome of the races.
Can a trainer be suspended for using Lidocaine?
Currently, yes. A trainer can be suspended if more than 20 picograms of Lidocaine is found in a horse following a race. As discussed above, this is an arbitrary and unreasonable threshold because it has no basis whatsoever in science. Just because testing has advanced to the point where we can detect substances at trace levels, we should not be punishing honest trainers for unintentional and innocent exposure when the amounts of that exposure have no effect on the horse. Mr. Baffert is appealing the rulings at issue not only for himself, but for all horsemen who are being subjected to such an unreasonable regulation.
Are the current Lidocaine limits in horse racing widely accepted
No. Veterinarians, scientists, and horsemen have criticized the current Lidocaine threshold because it is not supported by published science. In fact, a recent published scientific analysis that addresses the very cases of Charlatan and Gamine concludes that “the current threshold for lidocaine is apparently established not by regulatory science but rather by technical limit of detection testing technology.” See https://nationalhbpa.com/wp-content/uploads/lidocainefeature.pdf
Is current testing equipment technology widely accepted?
No. Testing technology has advanced very quickly, is highly sensitive, and has resulted in many “positive” tests from inadvertent and unintentional exposures of trace and forensically insignificant substances like Lidocaine that have no effect on a racehorse. This happened in the cases of both Gamine and Charlatan.
The current regulations must catch up to the sensitivity of testing or we will continue to see cases like this one which generate attention grabbing headlines, but which are not scientifically based. Unfortunately, the general public rarely takes the time to delve beyond the headlines and into the science. This does great harm to individual reputations and horse racing in general.