The New York Racing Association and the state’s Gaming Commission make a big deal of what they call “enhanced security protocols” for four stakes during the year, including Saturday’s Wood Memorial. The protocols require horses entered in the race to be on the grounds three days before and subject to 24-hour surveillance cameras, as well as other provisions.
One of the requirements is a treatment log to be completed by the veterinarian, which the Gaming Commission then posts on its web site in advance of the race. The protocols require a “full daily veterinarian’s record of all medications and treatments.” Both the Commission and NYRA seem content to have an incomplete form submitted unless you consider “pre-race” or “routine” to be an adequate diagnosis warranting the administration of medications.
What is particularly troubling about their lax attitude is that the issue of administering drugs to race horses because you can, and not because it is necessary to treat a condition, is a major issue confronting the sport. It came up in the now famous PETA video where one veterinarian was quoted as saying all horses in Steve Asmussen’s barn were treated with Lasix because it is a performance-enhancer, and not because it was necessary to treat pulmonary bleeding. A California investigation into seven sudden deaths in Bob Baffert’s barn found that Baffert had thyroxine administered to all his horses, although he did not even know what the purpose of the medication was.
In a six-part series in Thoroughbred Daily News last summer, the final segment was entitled “Race Horse is Not a Diagnosis.” Yet we have NYRA and the Gaming Commission not questioning “pre-race” or “routine” as an adequate explanation for their enhanced security protocols. Even those phrases, however, are a mite more adequate than the vet who simply left the diagnosis part of the state-mandated form blank. That vet, by the way, is the one featured in PETA’s video describing Lasix as a performance-enhancer.
In the press release announcing the protocols, New York’s top racing officials spouted the expected pablum about their concern for safety and integrity. There was no explanation for why these steps were taken for only four of the 2,294 races NYRA ran last year. NYRA CEO Chris Kay said the Wood would be “conducted in the safest and most transparent manner.”
That transparency, however, only serves to demonstrate that NYRA and the Gaming Commission are tone-deaf to the forces buffeting the industry. If you are going to boast about publicizing vet records, you should think that people may actually look at them. And if your haphazard acceptance of records that do not even meet your own standards becomes the next subject for PETA or Joe Drape, don’t blame the messenger.
This is an issue about more than how vets fill out a form. For NYRA and the Gaming Commission, it is about what role they will play – if any – in bringing changes to racing. One of those changes must be adherence to a cardinal principle that drugs can only be administered to a horse to address a specific medical need, and that medical need is documented in the records of the veterinarian.
I realize that when you are trying to attract top horses to one of your signature races it is tempting to let some things slide. But don’t go around boasting about your commitment to safety when you are willing to accept “pre-race” or “routine” as justification for administering drugs.