Lidocaine, which The New York Times reports is the substance for which Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Charlatan tested positive, is most commonly used as a local anesthetic and has legitimate medical purpose, a leading racing regulator says.
News broke Tuesday that two post-race samples from Arkansas Derby day had not yet cleared, but still needed to be verified via a split sample at a referee lab. The Times' Joe Drape reported that in addition to Charlatan, his undefeated stablemate Gamine, a $1.8 million filly who won an allowance race on the Oaklawn Park undercard, had a test flagged for lidocaine.
A ruling cannot be issued, Arkansas state steward Bernie Hettel said, until after the split sample is tested. Trainer Bob Baffert released a statement saying he's "extremely disappointed" that news leaked before a confidential second test occurred and hopes for an "expedited investigation."
Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Lexington, Ky.-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said Wednesday that use of lidocaine in horses often involves administering to an area before suturing a wound.
"You can use it for diagnostic nerve blocks in an effort to localize a lameness to facilitate a diagnosis,” Scollay said. “It also has use as an antiarrhythmic, during anesthesia for the most part. My assessment would be the most common use in a racehorse is for localized or regional analgesia.”
In a document distributed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, Dr. Brett Woodie of Lexington’s Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital wrote that lidocaine is commonly used “because of its potency, rapid onset of action, moderate duration of action, topical anesthetic properties and cost.”
Further, he wrote, the medication’s “duration of action has been reported to be 1.5 to 3 hours, but clinical experience would suggest that the duration of action is shorter.”
Scollay said lidocaine “is a legitimate medication that has a role in equine practice. And quite frankly, it would be not appropriate for us to make it a banned substance at all times because that could have a negative impact on equine welfare. I wouldn’t want to have a wound sutured without lidocaine.
"We want people to be able to use it appropriately, but we also want to make sure that it does not have an impact on a horse participating in a race," she continued. "That’s why we have withdrawal guidance for its use, we have a regulatory threshold that corresponds to the withdrawal guidance.”
It remains unclear why the two Baffert trainees might have needed lidocaine, nor have the amounts found in the first test been revealed. Baffert said in his statement that, "I...look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the (Arkansas Racing) Commission’s confidentiality rules."
According to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, up to 200 mg of lidocaine may be administered up to 72 hours before the scheduled post time of a race.
The prohibition of racing while being treated with lidocaine is “predominantly a safety and welfare concern,” Scollay said. “If someone were to have an unsound horse and have the ability to block a nerve so that the horse were sufficiently comfortable to race, that horse is at risk of injury, the jockey on his back, everybody behind that horse in the field.
"We’re not regulating it in terms of performance enhancement, per se. We’re regulating it for safety and welfare considerations.”
If the split sample returns negative, the original test will also be treated as such. Should it also come back positive, the commission will have reason to adjudicate.
Under Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines, use of lidocaine in horses fewer than 72 hours before a race is a class B penalty, which can result in a disqualification, suspension of 15 to 60 days and a fine of $500 to $1,000.
Basin, the Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner at age 2, ran second in Charlatan's division of the Arkansas Derby. Baffert also won the other flight with Nadal, who is not said to be under testing scrutiny.
Both Charlatan and Nadal are under consideration for the June 20 Belmont Stakes. Even without an Arkansas Derby victory, Charlatan could qualify for an oversubscribed Belmont -- as many as 16 horses can run -- thanks to a provision that allows a committee to select three entrants with merits outside of stakes earnings.