PHRC approves funds for toxicology lab upgrade

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: May 29, 2019

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission May 28 approved a $390,000 expenditure for a new laboratory information management system for the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

The lab has an older system—it’s designed to track progress on biological samples that are tested—that has become outdated. Dr. Mary Robinson, Director of PETRL, said the new system will facilitate much faster receipt of information for the testing of samples.

“The system we’re using has not met our needs for quite some time,” Robinson told the PHRC. “It does very limited reporting for us.”

Tom Chuckas, Director of Thoroughbred Racing for the PHRC, noted that other labs in the country are moving to purchase new LIMS software as well. He said the funds for the purchase will come from the PHRC equine drug-testing budget, which will total about $3.8 million in fiscal 2020.

Robinson also said the University of Pennsylvania in the near future will take control of all information technology support—it currently is handled by the state Department of Agriculture—at PETRL. She said the IT infrastructure in place now is outdated.

It will cost about $26,000 a year to maintain the new LIMS software versus $105,000 a year for the current system, Robinson said. It was noted the new system would be paid off in about five years given the savings on maintenance.

In other business, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association, which consists of six horsemen and breeder organizations in the state, was approved for a $30,000 grant from the PHRC marketing budget funded by 1% of the purse share from casino slot machines. PHRA President Pete Petersen said the funds will go toward a new brand ambassador position, native advertising and educational programs.

The PHRA and PHRC the last few years have worked to create a broad marketing and advertising strategy for horse racing and breeding in the state. The brand ambassador is Andrew Demsky, who has a background in marketing and for several years has served as the on-air handicapper at both Presque Isle Downs & Casino and Tampa Bay Downs.

“He will be telling the story of Pennsylvania horse racing,” Peterson said. “He brings a number of skill sets to our organization. We are trying to raise the visibility of the organization.”

Finally, in response to comments made at its April meeting by member Russell Jones Jr., the PHRC will form a committee charged with tackling current issues in the industry such as use of race-day Lasix, the riding crop, and public perception. Chuckas said three PHRC members will be on the committee, as will various stakeholders, and it will be expanded as needed.

At the request of local veterinarian Dr. Bryan Langlois, who regularly records PHRC meetings and posts them on his Youtube.com page, the committee will have a horseplayer as one of its members, Chuckas said.

“I’m glad we formed this group,” Jones said. “We’re all determined to really work at it. We in Pennsylvania can be leaders in beginning a reversal of what’s happening (in the industry regarding perception versus reality).”