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5 Takeaways on Banned Substances in Horse Racing in the USA

June 10, 2021 4 min read

5 Takeaways on Banned Substances in Horse Racing in the USA

All of the ins and outs of horse racing can be complicated, particularly when it comes to banned substances. The document on rules and regulations from the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) doesn’t exactly clear things up. The massive five hundred page pdf is not only daunting to look at, but is filled with detailed language that doesn’t exactly make it light reading. 

Luckily, we went through the rules on banned substances in horse racing so you don’t have to. Here are the five key takeaways from the ARCI rules on drug regulation that we think the average equestrian should know. 

The 5 Classes of Medication

There are five different classes of banned substances in horse racing. Each category has a varying degree of severity based on the purpose of the drug. For example, Class I includes opiates, psychoactive drugs, and amphetamines. These drugs have no widely accepted medical purpose and are stimulants that could significantly alter the outcome of a race. 

Class II medications are known to alter the state of consciousness in humans and most have no known therapeutic use in horses. Similar to Class I, these banned substances have a high potential of changing the outcome of a horse race. Class II drugs include antidepressants, nerve blocking agents, and even substances like snake venom that could be used as a potential nerve blocker. 

Class III drugs affect the cardiovascular, pulmonary and autonomic nervous systems in racehorses such as antihistamines, diuretics, and anabolic steroids. Bronchodilators, such as those used to manage heaves, are also in this category. While these may have a valid medical use, they could still impact the outcome of a race and are closely regulated. 

With Class IV substances, we start to get into therapeutic medications that are routinely used in racehorses. These drugs include skeletal muscle relaxants, NSAIDs, topical anesthetics, and mucolytic agents. Medications like these are thought to have a limited impact on performance and the outcome of a race. 

Class V medications have established concentration limits put forth by racing commissions and established agents. Anti-ulcer medications are included in Class V, as well as certain antiallergenic and anticoagulant drugs. 

The Penalty Point System

The ARCI has developed a point system to determine the consequences for infractions by a trainer, owner, or veterinarian. Each infraction is rated on a level of severity and incurs a certain number of points. The worse the infraction, the more points accrued. Each level of points is tied to a penalty, such as suspension or fines. For example, if a licensed trainer is convicted of a Category “A” offense for the presence of Class I and Class II banned substances, the trainer is penalized with:

First Offense:

  1. Minimum one-year suspension and a maximum three-year suspension. 
  2. Minimum fine of $10,000 or 10% of total purse (greater of the two) and a maximum of $25,000 or 25% of purse (greater of the two). 

By the third lifetime offense, the trainer could be facing:

  1. Minimum five-year suspension and a maximum of license revocation with no reapplication for a five-year period. 
  2. Minimum fine of $50,000 or 50% of total purse (greater of the two) and a maximum of $100,000 or 100% of purse (greater of the two).

It’s All in the Details

The ARCI relies on detailed record keeping to prevent the use of banned substances in horse racing. Everything from prescription labeling to the timing of medication administration is closely regulated and comes with severe consequences if these regulations are not followed. If a veterinarian is prescribing a controlled substance, paperwork must be filled out and approved for use by the governing organization prior to administration. 

Work with a Vet familiar with the ARCI

Choosing to work with a veterinarian that is familiar with the racetrack can have big benefits. Race track veterinarians have not only undergone the 8 years of education like their multidisciplinary counterparts, but also have an additional understanding of the filing system for approving medications and have an excellent memory for which drugs include banned substances. These vets are experts on the allowed concentrations of medication and the timing for administration of drugs. Not just any veterinarian will work at the racetrack. With such additional scrutiny in their daily practice, these veterinarian’s client-patient-

relationships differ from their counterparts in other disciplines. A racetrack-specific veterinarian can be a priceless asset when it comes to avoiding substances banned in horse racing.

Allowances for Unknowing Contamination

What happens if your horse tests positive, but you are certain you didn’t administer any sort of banned substance prior to the horse race? Don’t worry- the ARCI makes allowances for external contamination. One way your horse could test positive for banned substances is the ingestion of certain plants in the paddock environment. If your racehorse isn’t exposed to any wild plant life, a positive test result could be due to contamination from human drug use. For example, if a stable hand is taking prescription medication and urinates in your horse’s stall, it is possible for the horse to absorb trace amounts of the drug. If you’re innocent, you must have evidence of the unintended/unknowing contamination of your horse to avoid penalties. 

Play it Safe: Use Products Made for Race-Day

The consequences for testing positive for banned substances in horse racing are serious. One positive result can ruin the careers of an entire training barn. Why risk it? For the management of even the most minor skin conditions, like pastern dermatitis or sweet itch, try a non-prescription topical product that is guaranteed to be race-day safe: Zarasyl equine barrier cream.


Made of Polyethylene Glycol 3350, Polyethylene Glycol 400, Propylene Glycol, Water, Phenoxyethanol, Polysilicic acid, and Sodium Chloride, Zarasyl’s formula contains no steroids or antibiotics. All ingredients are odorless, non-volatile, water miscible, chemically stable, non-irritating and non-toxic. Horsemen have reported successful management of summer sores, scratches, proud flesh and more with Zarasyl Equine Barrier Cream.  

Don’t take the risk. Buy your tube of Zarasyl here.