Frogs Make Horses Faster — Say What?

Michael Harper for

Here´s one for the “weird” column…

Horse trainers have been allegedly juicing up their horses with a performance-enhancing drug with an interesting origin: a frog´s back.

As for how the connection was made between horse racing and frog jumping, the world may never know.

According to the New York Times, racing regulators had been hearing reports about this kind of activity happening in darkened stables, but after months of post-race testing, no trace of painkillers or PEDs could be found. That is, until a lab in Denver changed the way they tested for these drugs. Now, more than 30 horses from 4 states have tested positive for the froggy substance.

While trainers haven´t been formally charged, the race regulators expect it to happen sooner rather than later.

Called “dermorphin,” the frog juice is said to be 40 times more powerful than morphine, helping the horses run even faster.

As it´s such as potent drug, able to affect the outcome of a race, the regulators are saying the use of dermorphin could be considered one of the industry´s most serious drug violations.

Director of testing at Louisiana State University, Dr. Steven Baker, gave the New York Times the money-quote: “We hear about some pretty exotic stuff. Frog juice – this is exotic.”

While these kinds of drug scandals are (sadly) commonplace in other sports, such as baseball and football, this news comes as the industry is trying to separate themselves from this kind of behavior.

Try as they might, these latest accusations of frog juicing are just the latest in a long line of illegal PEDs which have been found in racetracks.

For instance, Cobra Venom has also been found in post-race tests. This venom is said to act as a nerve block, deadening any pain the horses may feel. The less pain a horse feels, the faster they are inclined to run.

Instead of acting as a nerve block, dermorphin is a pain suppressant, which allows the horses to run harder than they normally would. According to Craig W. Stevens, professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University, dermorphin makes the horses “hyper.”

“For a racehorse, it would be beneficial,” he told the Times. “The animal wouldn´t feel pain, and it would have feelings of excitation and euphoria.”

Those entrepreneurial readers should take note: Dermorphin isn´t found on your run-of-the-mill frog. The substance is found on the South American native commonly referred to as the “Waxy Monkey Tree Frog.”

Dr. Barker believes, however, that dermorphin has now been synthesized and can be manufactured artificially.

“There´s a lot out there, and that would be an awful lot of frogs that would have to be squeezed,” he told the Times.

“There are a lot of unemployed chemists out there.”

Not only is it not yet known how often these trainers are doping their horses with frog juice, only a handful of states have the capability of testing for this substance. So far, horses from Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and  possibly Texas have tested positive for dermorphin frog juice.

“This whole thing has really taken us by surprise,” said Charles A. Gardiner III, executive director of the Louisiana Racing Commission.

“It couldn´t have come at a worse time. We´re fighting back federal intervention. We´re under attack and losing our fan base. Fans believe that the sport is dirty, that there is cheating. And here we have an obvious attempt to cheat.”

So, how effective is dermorphin in these race horses?

“A lot of money´s got to be given back,” said Mr. Gardiner.