Dollars & Sense: The Marketing of Illicit Substances

“Since the molecule is altered, the labs could never detect unless a snitch tuned [sic] a bottle in and the racing authorities decided to make a test. This is highly unlikely, but a possibility.”

A description of the substance “Equifactor,” from Equestology’s list of new products included as a lengthy attachment to a 2018 email from Lisa (Giannelli) Ranger to then-Standardbred trainer Adrienne Hall.

What do cheating horsemen and veterinarians want from their illicit substances? Based on the marketing of its products, Seth Fishman’s disgraced Equestology believed shady horsemen and equine veterinarians would be interested in substances that provide advantages in equine performance, pain reduction, and recovery from competition while eluding detection by drug tests.

And based on the millions of dollars in products sold by Equestology before federal law enforcement brought an end to the operation, Fishman had found plenty of interested parties before it all came crashing down. In July a federal judge, Mary Kay Vyskocil, ordered a more than $10 million forfeiture judgment against Fishman, who “sold or dissipated approximately $10,312,627 worth of adulterated and misbranded drugs.”

Fishman and more than two dozen people tied to equine sports—including successful Thoroughbred trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis—would be convicted on federal charges in related cases. 

Sign up for

With the conclusion of litigation in the Fishman case and related cases, BloodHorse recently acquired hundreds of documents presented as evidence during the Fishman trial. Equestology’s descriptions of the products make it clear that purchasers understood they were acquiring substances designed to skirt racing rules—or sold as such. It should be noted that these descriptions were crafted, or relayed, by Equestology, so their validity is unclear. 

Reading the descriptions of the products, as well as emails to and from people at Equestology, provides insight into this world of cheaters and the advantages that most interest them. 

As noted in the quote at the start of this story, the description of Equifactor, sold as a muscule (sic) growth and recovery product, says that the substance is altered just enough to where it’s not detectable by labs. In outlining a list of 14 new products, evading detection is often a key selling point. Four years after that email, Giannelli would be sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison for her role in selling products for Fishman’s Equestology following a trial at which Hall was a key witness. Fishman would be sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.

In selling EGH, marketed as a “prohormone” that will increase testosterone levels in a “balanced manner,” Equestology advises that its product delivers results but is less detectable than administering testosterone: “Using testosterone by itself alters the ratios and (is) much more easily detected. Giving one shot a week has never caused levels to test positive. In some cases in HK, people using two shots per week for more than four weeks had pushed the upper limits of testosterone limits.”

(The real-world description of the Hong Kong experience certainly is interesting, although a healthy dose of “consider the source” should carry with all of these references.)

Besides evading detection, there are plenty of promises of performance boosting. Its LC200 product is described as an “L-Carnosine in an amino acid supplement with strong muscle buffering and antioxidant actions.” A detailed reason for better performance, linked to Carnosine, follows.

“Carnosine is a major muscle buffer. In muscle tissue, phosphate and carnosine together provide approximately 90% of the buffering capacity. Intense exercise involves an anaerobic component and thus results in significant reductions in ATP, which increases muscle lactic acid and also (increases) tissue acidity,” reads the description. “Although the acidity can normally be buffered by the body, under high-stress conditions, the lactate buildup is too fast for the body to deal with. With increasing acidity comes premature muscle fatigue with an associated decrease in performance. Carnosine supplements provide the vital buffering capacity as well as antioxidant activity to improve muscle function and delay the onset of fatigue. Carnosine improves cardiac contractibility, sensitizes cellular calcium channels to their activators, and protects against hydroxyl free radicals.”

One wouldn’t think putting a product that compares with another product described as “infamous” would be a good idea, but in this environment that’s just the word used on the Equestology product sheet to promote TB-7. 

“This product has the same sequencing as the infamous TB 500 product except now available at a fraction of the cost. TB 500 marketed this well-studied sequence from the many published results in the numerous use patents filed for this sequence,” the description reads. “… It has in some cases been effectively used as short-term prerace, but in most cases this has been short-lived and with athletes crashing. Like all immune modulators they are highly beneficial in small strategic doses and promote overall healing and increased immunity.”

It wraps up with advice on avoiding detection. 

“It is NOT recommended as prerace ever as the upside has been unpredictable and can be detected in some jurisdictions for up to 96 hours.”

Equi-Mass is sold as a form of human growth hormone that is better suited for horses.

“PG-2 human growth hormone is a highly controlled substance and has many permanent negative side effects, making it dangerous to both purchase and use. Modified growth factor specially targeted to muscle tissue are neither controlled nor proven dangerous. In their natural form they are released during workouts or when there is damage to muscle tissue. With a short half-life of minutes, it was not advisable for therapeutics other than localized injection to specific muscle body. A commercially modified version was tested and produced mixed results in equine athletes. After altering the modification many times over, a new version has been perfected and (is) now working well. It’s a unique product and specific for equine athletes.”

It goes on to suggest administration five days out to avoid detection followed by a schedule of regular administrations.

Reading through the descriptions, which go on and on, serves as a reminder of the need for vigorous oversight in the area of anti-doping—as in the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority and its enforcement arm, the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit. As Ranger noted in that Oct. 16, 2018, email that included a list of some 500 substances, “Here is the product sheet but we are always adding to it. If you don’t see it, just ask! (followed by a smiley face).”

Read More: Dollars & Sense: The Marketing of Illicit Substances

2023-12-07 23:40:41

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments