While skimming through the horse racing column in the Houston Chronicle last week, I was stopped short about a drug being found in race horses that was totally unfamiliar to me—dermorphin.

After pursuing the topic a bit deeper, I saw an article in the Brownsville Herald with a New Orleans dateline on it: “A recent outbreak of positive tests at Louisiana tracks for the pain-killing drug dermorphin has led to two more suspensions of trainers.

“In separate rulings this month (June), Delta Downs stewards suspended quarter- horse trainers Alonzo Loya and Gonzolo Gonzales for six months—the maximum penalty that stewards can give a trainer under Louisiana racing laws.

“The stewards also disqualified the horses that tested positive and ordered purses won in the questioned races to be redistributed.”

The article goes on to explain that the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported both Loya and Gonzales have appealed the suspensions to the Louisiana State Racing Commission. Executive Director Charlie Gardiner said Loya and Gonzales can continue to run horses until the commission hears the cases.

Loya is the trainer of Courville Buff, who tested positive for dermorphin after winning the third race at Delta Downs on June 1. The purse was $30,500 and the winner’s share was $12,300.

Gonzales is the trainer of Be Home By Six, who tested positive for the drug after winning the third race at Delta Downs on June 12. The purse was $12,000 and the winner’s share was $7,200.

Loya and Gonzales join quarter-horse trainer Alvin Smith, Jr. and Louisiana Downs thoroughbred trainer Keith Charles as trainers whom rulings have been issued for alleged violations stemming from the dermorphin outbreak.

There were 11 horses from the stables of nine trainers that tested positive at Delta Downs, Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs.

The article stated “Racing Commissioners International categorizes dermorphin in Class 1—the most harmful drugs on a list of substances that might be given to horses. Regulators say that the drug has no legitimate use in horses and is much more powerful than morphine.

Dermorphin is extracted from secretions of South American frogs, later developed secretly for illegal use. It is estimated at 30 or 40 times more potent than morphine. It masks pain in a horse and makes the animal hyper, eager to run faster despite injury or other physical problems and suppresses the feeling of exhaustion while racing.

Kentucky-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium last week informed racing interests nationally about dermorphin. The consortium speculated that the drug is being produced synthetically, given its wide use. To use the drug in its natural form would require too many South American frogs.

The Kentucky group also surmised that the drug has been used for many months without detection. The new test to detect dermorphin is only being used in Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Steve Barker, a professor at LSU’s veterinary school commented, “The compound has been around, but it has never been available in large quantities. It has no legal therapeutic use.”

Under Louisiana racing rules, the recommended penalty for a Class 1 violation is suspension of at least one year and no more than five years, and a $5,000 fine.

When a horse tests positive for a drug not permitted for use in racing, the trainer has the right to ask for a split sample—often called a referee sample—to be analyzed by an out-of-state laboratory.

If the lab doesn’t confirm the positive, the case against the trainer is dropped. If the lab confirms a positive, track stewards will hold a hearing on the matter and possibly issue a ruling. Delta Downs trainers Loya, Gonzales, Smith and Louisiana Downs trainer Charles declined to have referee samples tested.

KWICKIES…Question: How do you know when a slumping team can’t find the light at the end of a tunnel? It’s a simple answer when referring to our Houston Astros who scored only two runs in last weekend’s three game sweep by the last place Chicago Cubs, scored only six runs in the last five games through Sunday, have been shut out eight times this season and are trying to trade their best hitter (Carlos Lee), best pitcher (Wandy Rodriguez) and closer (Brett Myers).

And speaking of the Houston Astros, one bright spot is rookie second baseman Jose Altuve, who has hit over .300 so far the entire season, and is the only team member to be voted by his peers to the 2012 All-Star team. The 5-foot 5-inch Altuve was playing Class A baseball at this time last year.

Bo Van Pelt was the only golfer to match eventual winner Tiger Woods stroke for stroke in Sunday’s final round of the PGA Tour AT&T National until he bogeyed the final two holes while Tiger got pars and won by two strokes. It was the 74th Tour victory for Woods, moving him from a second-place tie with Jack Nicklaus and only eight wins short of leader Sam Snead with 82 tour wins. Tiger fired a two-under par 69 and at one point went 41 holes without a bogey.

Three area seniors-to-be have made verbal commitments to play Division I football in the fall of 2013. West Orange-Stark Mustang standouts Quentin Tezeno and Travon Blanchard along with Little Cypress-Mauriceville’s Alex Sezer have verbally committed to play at the next level. Tezeno will play at the University of Texas El Paso while teammate Blanchard plans to attend Baylor and Sezer committed to Texas A&M.

Sunset Grove Country Club will be the site of the Third Annual Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament next Monday (July 9). The morning session will tee of at 8 a.m. with the afternoon scramble set for 1 p.m. Entry fee is $62.50 per player and registration must be completed by Monday at 7 a.m.

The NFL is moving the starting time of the second game of its Sunday double-headers ahead 10 minutes to ensure fewer fans will miss the action on the field. The late- afternoon match-ups on CBS and Fox will kick off at 3:25 p.m. instead of 3:15. Late games not on that week’s doubleheader network will still start at 3:05. During the 2009-11 seasons, 44 games lasted long enough to require part of the audience to be switched.

JUST BETWEEN US…Sunday was the first day in the Southeastern Conference for the Texas Aggies, who left the Big 12 Conference, and the first day for TCU in the Big 12. The philosophy of the two schools changing leagues is rather different as the Aggies claimed they wanted to compete against teams from the South and not teams from all over the place, so that’s why they wanted to leave the Big 12 for the SEC where their closest game is against LSU in Baton Rouge. The Aggies posted a ho-hum 64-60 record under three football coaches over the last decade. TCU’s Athletic Director Chris Del Conte gave his reason for wanting his school in the Big 12 Conference in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle. “As much as I thought that would be great, when you think of playing college football, it’s about playing against natural rivalries and the passion of playing those teams so close. That’s what our alumni are most excited about.” The Horned Frogs are 47-5 the last four seasons under Head Coach Gary Patterson.