Commission investigates use of the drug aminorex
Zeron stopped from driving or training by ORC after test proves to be positive
Aminorex, found by authorities in a horse trained by Woodbine trainer-driver Rick Zeron, is an illegal drug rarely seen in North America.
The Ontario Racing Commission is not allowing Zeron, 50, of Oakville, Ont., to drive or train horses while it investigates the positive test that came to light late last week. Zeron is the leading money-winning driver in Canada and is also among the leading trainers.
Aminorex is a Class 1 drug, which puts it in the most serious category, and comes with a suspension of up to five years.
Although the commission has been cracking down heavily on doping of horses in the past year, aminorex is a drug that hasn't popped up in positive tests until recently, ORC executive director John Blakney said. He's heard of similar positives starting to show up in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Aminorex has caught them by surprise.
The commission is investigating seven cases of aminorex found in the systems of standardbred horses racing at Woodbine and Flamboro Downs.
Aminorex, categorized as a central nervous system stimulant related to amphetamines, is thought to have caused an epidemic of pulmonary hypertension in Germany, Switzerland and Austria in the 1960s when it was being marketed as a weight-loss drug. After several people died, it was quickly withdrawn from the market in November of 1968.
Aminorex is an easily manufactured derivative of 4-metyl-aminorex, which is known on the street as euphoria, and is considered four times more potent. The World Health Organization reported aminorex as having little therapeutic value and warned that its future abuse would be "significant."
Nobody guessed that it would be used in horses.
"Any medication or any product that would manifest a positive test that's a Class 1 drug, we treat it very seriously," Blakney said.
Blakney said that only a handful of people in the harness industry are "pushing the envelope' and operating outside the rules. Last year, only one positive result would be found for every 2,000 tests, he said.
But this year, the ORC is investigating 20 cases in which the Class 3 drug torosemide, a diuretic, was used, as well as the seven aminorex cases. The ORC has also worked on five cases involving erythropoietin, or Aranesp, which is considered most serious.
ORC has handed out fines of $100,000 and suspensions of 10 years to horsemen who have not only had horses test positive for EPO, a blood doping compound, but for people who have been found in possession of it.
Since the ORC announced the medication control task force last June, horsemen's associations and racetracks have pledged about $1-million to fight the problem that is destroying the confidence of bettors. Blakney said the money will give them more resources and a few more investigators to fight the problem.
It also established out-of-competition testing of horses, but that program has been put on the back burner while the commission deals with the latest rash of positives.