That’s Methed Up! Racehorse Tested Positive For Meth In Iowa

Written By Marian Rosin on September 9, 2022 - Last Updated on September 21, 2022
Iowa horse betting at Prairie Meadows in the spotlight after horse tests positive for meth

If this story had a logline like a TV show, it might be “Mr. Ed meets Breaking Bad.” A racehorse tested positive for trace amounts of meth after winning a May 29 race in Iowa. The horse’s groom tested positive for meth, as well.

The horse, Drag Malibu, had just run at Prairie Meadows Casino and Racetrack in Altoona. Because of the positive drug test, many Iowa horse bettors lost money because the win was disqualified.

A horse testing positive for methamphetamine “isn’t something that we see very often,” said Brian Ohorilko, the administrator at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).

He added that it’s not uncommon for the IRGC to see a few positive drug tests every year, but this, involving a horse, was a first.

Drag Malibu likely ingested drugs by accident

It turned out Drag Malibu likely ingested the meth by accident during the race. The gelding’s groom got into a dispute at Prairie Meadows about a week later, which is when he tested positive for meth.

According to The Daily Caller, he told the Iowa Gaming Commission that “meth could have been on his hands” as he cared for the horse at the race.

According to KCCI8, Ohorilko corroborated, saying:

“The groom had put a tongue tie on the horse and it’s very reasonable to assume, based on the level of methamphetamine detected, that’s probably how the horse tested positive.”

A racehorse’s tongue tie is a double-looped strip of usually rubber or cloth that ties under the chin and keeps the horse from getting its tongue over the bit, a situation which would make it hard to control the horse.

Ramifications for a positive drug test

Methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant under the Controlled Substances Act. That means it has a high potential for abuse, dependence, or addiction, and a currently accepted medical use in FDA-approved products.

It is available legally only through prescription, but can’t be refilled. Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine and oxycodone.
Ohorilko told KCC18 that meth has “no business being in an animal at all.”

A violation like the one here would commonly result in a one-year suspension. However, in this case, the suspension was reduced to 15 days and a $1,000 fine.

The more lenient penalty was given because Kenny Smith, Drag Malibu’s owner and trainer, had no previous violations and he was in the dark about meth possibly being ingested by the horse.

Since the horse’s win was nixed many gamblers’ wagers from that day remained fixed. Ohorilko told KCCI8:

“There is no method or mechanism to reimburse the gamblers that finished second.”

Owner Smith has severed ties with Drag Malibu’s groom and has said the situation was “extremely frustrating.” Drag Malibu is now on a veterinarian’s list and is cleared to compete in races again, according to Smith via KCC18.

Speed + stamina = drugs

Sports that require speed and stamina pretty much invite problem drug usage. That’s true worldwide.

Horse racing has a history of drug usage, for both jockeys and horses. Cocaine has not been unknown when it comes to riders and the pressures and dangers they face.

World War II served as a kind of demarcation line when it comes to race horses. Drugs that slowed horses down so they would lose (for example, morphine) before the war and performance-enhancing drugs afterward.

The latter have included “milkshakes,” which contain baking soda, among other ingredients. These are illegal in some places in horse racing because even though we may think of baking soda as benign, it can delay lactic acid buildup in a racehorse’s muscles. This gives a horse better endurance and more energy.

According to, some other drugs used in horse racing are:

  • Anabolic Steroids – enhances muscle development
  • Narcotic Analgesics – contradictorily to its pain relief properties, can act as a stimulant in small doses
  • Etorphine – tranquilizes elephants but acts as a stimulant for horses
  • Beta Blockers – enhances performance by slowing the heart rate
  • Butazolidin – pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties, enabling injured horses to perform better
  • Caffeine
  • Blue Magic (propantheline bromide) – relaxes muscles and increases blood flow
  • Cocaine and Viagra have also been detected

According to the New York Times, an average of almost 10 horses died per week at US racetracks in 2018.

The NY Times also points out that that number was somewhere from 2.5 to 5 times more than the racehorse fatality rate in Europe and Asia due to stricter enforcement of drug rules there.

When the other horseshoe drops

Horse racing is no stranger to scandals. In 2020, some 27 people, including trainers, veterinarians, and drug distributors were charged in a scheme to dope horses and cheat the public.

One was the trainer of 2019 Kentucky Derby winner, Maximum Security, who was disqualified for interference. The head of the FBI’s New York office called the doping of horses affected in the scheme “nothing less than abuse.” The races involved took place in the US and the United Arab Emirates.

Another of the conspirators, trainer Jorge Navarro, whose lifetime winnings topped $34 million, pleaded guilty in federal court. Seven defendants had pleaded guilty as of August 2021.

Others charged and/or convicted included:

  • Kristian Rhein, veterinarian: 3-year prison term, $700,000+ in penalties
  • Michael Kegley, Jr., sales director of the company that sold a performance-enhancing drug and Rhein’s brother-in-law: 30-month prison term
  • Jordan Fishman: Charged with drug misbranding and adulteration

Iowa horse betting at Prairie Meadows Casino and Racetrack

With all the genuine worry and dangers for the horses and vocal opposition to the activity, horse racing in Iowa still has its fans locally and elsewhere.

Prairie Meadows was Iowa’s first racetrack. It opened in 1989.

Two of the top annual races held at Prairie Meadows and in the state are the Cornhusker Handicap and the Iowa Distaff.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Marian Rosin

Marian Rosin is a freelance writer who has been published in Upnest and Psychology Today. Rosin brings experience in the gambling sector as the senior copywriter for Isle of Capri casinos.

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