The famed Blue Ribbon Preakness Analysis is up on the Horse Racing page.
All posts by noonante
You do not get to the top of the training game without having considerable ability and intelligence. No one can doubt that Bob Baffert is in the elite group, and may well be the most successful trainer in history. There is not a trainer with more wins in the Kentucky Derby. One of the traits of successful trainers is an attention to detail. To racing aficionados, Todd Pletcher, following in the footsteps of his mentor D. Wayne Lukas, is the epitome of the detail-oriented trainer.
So how has Bob Baffert responded to reports that Medina Spirit, thus far the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, tested positive for a drug exceeding the legal limit?
- Acknowledging that word of the drug positive, for betamethasone, was already out there, he had a press conference on Sunday morning to “get ahead of the story;”
- He stated that Medina Spirit had never been administered the medication;
- He acknowledged last year’s positive for the filly Gamine, but said it was administered outside the recommended withdrawal time;
- His attorney, who was present, did not know the permissible level for the medication in a post-race drug test;
- On the following day Baffert appeared on a Fox “News,” where he stated the horse had never been given the drug and that he would never give the medication to a horse;
- He went on to say that the horse was the victim of “cancel culture;”
- On Tuesday, he acknowledged that Medina Spirit had been treated for a skin irritation with a topical ointment that contained betamethasone.
So a trainer who has been accused of four drug positives in the preceding year, and was disqualified from Churchill’s Kentucky Oaks, could not get even the most basic facts straight with at least a day to prepare. He did not call his veterinarian to see if the horse had been treated with the medication? He has vets who were unaware that Gamine had tested positive the preceding year for the same overage? He could not keep his facts straight with “journalists” on Fox and used an incomprehensible “cancel culture” to attempt to explain why his horse may have been singled out?
Baffert and/or his lawyer have sought to minimize the significance of the amount of betamethasone found in the horse’s blood, comparing it to a few grains of salt found in the ocean or, alternatively, complaining that the regulatory levels are too strict. Fortunately there are people in racing who know what they are talking about.
Dr. Mary Scollay is the Executive Director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and, fortuitously for those concerned about integrity in racing, an appointee to the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Standing Committee under the recently enacted Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. In an interview with Thoroughbred Daily News, she acknowledges that 21 picograms of the drug is a small amount, but that was the amount found in a milliliter of blood and a horse could have “in excess of 50,000 milliliters” of blood. Also, “21 picograms is consistent with the intra-articular administration of nine milligrams into a single fetlock joint at less than 72 hours prior to sampling,” although she is not saying that is what occurred.
In addition to having multiple drug positives in a year, let’s not forget that his 2018 Derby (and Triple Crown) winner Justify had an overage following his win in the Santa Anita Derby, a race he needed to win just to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The matter was not adjudicated in time to affect his participation at Churchill, and he ended up being exonerated in a widely-criticized (and secret) decision by the California Horse Racing Board.
Then there were a rash of mysterious deaths in his barn several years ago. It turns out that he was giving horses thyroxine, a potent medicine for which there was no demonstrated need. Again, there was no connection determined between the fatalities and the drug.
Baffert’s response to this current crisis is one he has employed before, and follows the approach utilized by notable politicians: First, deny everything even though you do not have a factual basis for it. When caught, do not take responsibility for either the initial false statements or the occurrence. Then, find someone else to blame.
I am sick of the Baffert bullshit. As perhaps the most recognizable figure in horse racing, he has a higher obligation to the sport and the industry to keep up with this nonsense. I understand why Pimlico could not bar him from participating in the Preakness, but I wish he had the decency to not take part. But given his long record of arrogance, that was not going to happen.
The storied Blue Ribbon Kentucky Derby Analysis has returned and is up on the Horse Racing page.
In a sport facing multiple important issues, the marriage of jockeys Katie Davis and Trevor McCarthy would be unlikely to hit anyone’s radar screen. But when the newly married couple decided to ride in New York on January 1, they were probably as surprised as the rest of us to learn of an antiquated rule: state regulations provide that when both are entered in a race, they must be a coupled entry regardless of common ownership of the horses simply because they are married to one another.
For those not fully conversant with the arcana of horse racing, a “coupled entry” means that two (or more) horses will run as a single betting interest to avoid possible collusion. It has been most often employed when separate horses have a common ownership interest. It used to be that a trainer with two or more horses had to run as an entry even if there were no common ownership. But it is a rule that has been loosened over the years, so that most stake races no longer couple horses even when owned by the same individual and trained by the same trainer.
The regulation of the New York State Gaming Commission provides:
All horses trained or ridden by a spouse, parent, issue or member of a jockey’s household shall be coupled in the betting with any horse ridden by such jockey.
Davis is the daughter of a trainer, sister to another, and sister of a jockey. When riding against a sibling or a horse trained by her father or brother, there is no coupled entry. It is only marriage that has affected her business (as well as that of McCarthy).
The rule is ludicrous on its face. If prior to marrying, McCarthy and Davis had – forgive me while I blush – cohabited, they would have been required to be a coupled entry on the track if not in the eyes of the law. While their relationship may have been widely known on the backstretch or in the racing office – and I neither know nor care if it were – there was no pari-mutuel implication.
Racing has enough issues that warrant further investigation. Every time I see the name of trainer Wayne Potts in the entries I wonder why New York allows him to train at its tracks when he has been banned elsewhere for falsifying his claim to be actually training the horse. Need I mention drugs? When a trainer with multiple violations (including 58 in Saratoga in one year) is elected to the Hall of Fame, and this year’s ballot includes a trainer recently suspended for a drug violation following close to four dozen other violations, one may think it is only trivial matters that attract the attention of regulators.
Racing does not need to be involved in the legitimate, personal lives of its participants. If they actually believe that a married couple may collude during a race, some one should point out that there are stewards who observe the actual running of a race and can take enforcement action if they suspect collusion. Even if the stewards fail to pay attention, there is an army of losing bettors who will raise the issue.
The racing world is a collection of close knit communities around the country. Its insularity means that a lot is known about the personal behavior of its participants, by both those on the backstretch and in the offices. Do we really want a world where jockeys are called into the racing office and asked if they have been living together in recent weeks? Or should it be treated like other behavior (illegal drugging) that folks prefer it to go unmentioned. It is beyond absurd that a public and legally sanctioned relationship is punished, while private ones that, nonetheless, violate the rule are not punished. Indeed, the regulation is simply unenforceable – until that cohabiting couple marries.
I think there can be little doubt that one of the riders in the marriage has been punished. Katie Davis has said that NYRA’s Racing Office has discouraged trainers from selecting Davis because the race might not go because of insufficient entries, according to a Bill Finley piece in the February 7 Thoroughbred Daily News. After what must have been an exhaustive investigation, Pat McKenna, NYRA’s spokesperson said her accusations “are completely false and without merit” according to Finley’s reporting. McKenna added that “NYRA has consistently advocated for modernized rules regarding coupled entries….”
Trevor McCarthy has been the more accomplished jockey and is going to get his share of mounts. Katie Davis has the same issue other less-experienced riders have in attracting mounts. In what has to be a supreme irony, Finley reported that she lost her first win on a disqualification – after her brother Dylan claimed foul against her.
Finley also observed that enforcement of the antiquated rule may be costing NYRA in its handle, calculating that for every reduced betting interest because of the coupling rule it may be losing $90,000 per race. We know that field size is an important consideration for every track since larger fields increase the betting handle and the track’s revenue. It is why NYRA instituted reforms following a spike in catastrophic injuries, preventing the Racing Office from having a say in whether a vet could scratch a horse in a pre-race exam. (Unfortunately, it went in the other direction when it increased the purse-to-claiming ratio that its Medical Examiner acknowledged heightened the risk for horses.)
Despite NYRA’s spokesperson claiming the organization’s vigorous interest in updating coupling policies, it is New York’s Gaming Commission that has the responsibility for regulations. Expecting that body to act promptly on anything is a fool’s errand. As one example, it has been considering revisions to the rule regarding the usage of the whip. You know, the same topic that has been addressed by other major racing organizations is recent months. The Commission’s Chairperson actually said at its December, 2019 meeting that it has been considering this matter since 2015 — seriously.
This is a body that redefines soporific. It has had just two meetings this year and has yet to even raise this matter. Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill on day 51 of his administration. It is now 117 days since this ridiculous rule has been adversely affecting two jockeys, trainers, owners and bettors.
So Katie Davis will just have to suffer her potential loss of income until the NYRA and the Commission decide whether they really care about this injustice and take simple steps to correct it.
Tuesday’s racing media was replete with praise for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement that he had reached a breakthrough in advancing federal legislation to enact major reforms in horse racing. What is notably absent from the coverage, however, are the details that distinguish the McConnell proposal from the Horseracing Integrity Act that has been in both houses of Congress all year.
The Horseracing Integrity Act in its various incarnations has been in the House of Representatives for the last three sessions of Congress. The primary sponsors are Republican Andy Barr representing Lexington and Democrat Paul Tonko representing Saratoga Springs. They have attracted numerous co-sponsors in the House. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, and Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, filed the current version of the House bill in the Senate this year.
The Barr-Tonko bill would authorize the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a private entity, to oversee a uniform system of medication rules and penalties for violations that would apply to the entire country. USADA is the agency that has cleaned up track and field, as well as cycling, and was instrumental in identifying Lance Armstrong as a world-class cheat and liar.
Because McConnell did not actually file a bill, we are left with media coverage as to what they think will be in the bill. Nothing I read, however, has indicated any significant differences between a McConnell bill and the Barr-Tonko version, other than a possible three-year delay in totally eliminating all race-day medications.
While that should be enough to give pause to the enthusiastic supporters of something that does not exist, there are other factors that may warrant a tempering of expectations.
The first is that McConnell has not exactly built a reputation as a person who keeps his word. For example, while he promised additional legislation to protect middle-income and low-wage workers from the consequences of the pandemic, he sent the Senate off on their usual summer vacation – or as he called it in his press release, a “state-work-period.”
He also described this as a bipartisan effort. But Paul Tonko, a long-time advocate, and a Democrat, was not at the press conference while his co-sponsor sat on the stage. McConnell said he would work with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat motivated by last year’s fatalities at Santa Anita, but had not secured her endorsement. Given the Kentucky-centric aspect of his announcement, it was as if this was an issue only affecting McConnell’s state.
McConnell also said that the bipartisan support means the legislation could come up for a vote “as early as this year, perhaps after the November elections,” according to Frank Angst’s reporting in BloodHorse.com. Right. I am guessing that McConnell is not aware of legislative rules because even I know that if this doesn’t happen this year the whole process has to begin again after a new Senate and House are sworn in.
So rather than jumping on the effort to cry “Hosanna,” as a wagering person I would only accept odds-on wagers that we will be having this same conversation a year from now.
You know the expression: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That doesn’t actually apply in the world of American horse racing because things don’t change all that much.
This past week the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium issued a “Thyroxine Advisory” in concert with the American Association of Equine Practitioners. It was a necessary step according to the groups because of evidence of “wholesale use of thyroxine in entire populations of racehorses as a ‘wellness’ supplement rather than as the prescription medication that it is.”
When I showed their news release to my spouse, she responded, “Is that from five years ago?” While her memory on pedigrees is close to infallible, she was off this time by two years. Thyroxine hit the spotlight in the world of racing seven years ago in connection with an investigation of a cluster of cardiac fatalities in the barn of trainer Bob Baffert.
Although the California Horse Racing Board did not pinpoint the use of thyroxine as the cause of the “extremely abnormal” cluster, Baffert acknowledged giving the drug to all the horses in his barn. He did so even though it is a prescription medication intended for treatment of specific medical conditions.
The CHRB issued its own guidance in May, 2014, to address what it called “apparently indiscriminate use” of the medication. It required that thyroxine only be administered for a “specific horse and condition” and prescribed by a CHRB-licensed veterinarian.
That month was also the time of reports by NBC and HBO on the controversies regarding the treatment of horses, partially sparked by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals putting an undercover agent in the barns of Steve Asmussen at Churchill Downs and Saratoga.
HBO reporter Bernard Goldberg questioned Asmussen about a filly suffering a fatal heart attack after crossing the finish line. Asmussen acknowledged the horse had received both Lasix and Clenbuterol (both legal medications at the time). Then he said that he “feeds” thyroxine to his horses. Again, treating it as a nutritional supplement as opposed to a prescription medication with potentially serious side effects.
The New York State Gaming Commission conducted an investigation of the many allegations by PETA of abuse in the Asmussen barn. They cleared him of many of the claims, but did find that 58 of the 66 horses that ran in Saratoga in 2013 were incorrectly administered thyroxine too close to a race. They fined him $10,000, although my calculations at the time concluded that the minimum fine should have been $29,000. For one of the game’s most successful trainers, $29K probably amounts to a rounding error.
So there you have it. Two Hall-of-Fame trainers are found to have violated standard veterinary guidelines and administered a prescription medication as a matter of course regardless of whether it was being used to treat a medical condition. One was not penalized and the other got a slap on the wrist.
So I wonder why it became necessary five years later to issue an “advisory” restating that standard guideline because of concerns over “wholesale” use of a prescription medication as a nutritional supplement.
It may not have been deliberate, but the RMTC and AAEP did not issue the advisory until after The Jockey Club Round Table on August 16. It has become a forum for the necessity of a national body that oversees uniform regulations and a consistent enforcement mechanism.
In that interview on HBO with Bernard Goldberg, Asmussen explained his 28 drug violations (in 2014) as the result of inconsistent state regulations. With the New York findings that number is now at least 86. The cheaters are just laughing at the rest of us who want a clean sport.
The Saratoga Chamber of Commerce is advocating that Broadway be closed on Travers Day and Whitney Day to allow for a street festival. In their new house organ, Saratoga Report, they boast of pressuring the City Council to close Henry Street, a small street two blocks away so the bars and restaurants there could have expanded outdoor seating.
I think there are good reasons why closing Broadway for weekend days in warm weather so there could be outdoor dining makes a lot of sense. What does not make sense, however, is promoting a “festival” where crowds will throng downtown for “dining,” and bars with takeout service, on track days that typically attract large crowds.
If you think the crowds will not come because the track is closed to spectators, consider the “Chowder Fest.” This annual event, on the first Saturday in February, features long lines outside restaurants and bars to get a two-ounce cup of their chowder made especially for this occasion. I am not making this up; it’s actually one of my favorite days. But temperatures can be below zero and/or it can be snowing. Still the crowds come. The last time I went, the crowds on the sidewalks of Broadway were so packed it was nearly impossible to walk down them.
So, bump the thermometer by 80 degrees, make it a sunny day, and add the hype that always accompanies these race days. Do you think Broadway will be jammed, despite the Chamber’s suggestion that “crowds are limited to ensure safe distancing?” Right.
Crowds will not be limited, but rather attracted by the prospect of a big outdoor party. The experience in the numerous hot spots around the country is that it is the fun events that attract the big crowds that inevitably have a lot of irresponsible conduct. Will Chamber members be taking temperatures at the many access points to Broadway and then monitoring compliance with social distancing and mask wearing? No, I did not think so.
Tracks that have “re-opened” have quickly experienced their own issues. Lone Star Park in Texas celebrated their resumption with a photograph of spectators standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the rail. They have now closed again because of an “abundance of caution.” While I have not seen a specific reason from the track, we can assume that positives showed up among either track workers or racing folks.
Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore obtained permission from the state government to admit spectators. The track thought that meant 15,000 people. The state responded with a “not so fast,” so the actual number was south of 3,000. While masks were required for spectators, Bill Finley reports in Thoroughbred Daily News that he saw few masks by the end of the day, and there was no apparent effort to enforce the requirement. For the Haskell, the track’s big day, there will only be 500 general admissions sold.
Saratoga Springs has been fortunate in not having a major problem with fatalities and Covid-19 positives. This is in large part attributable to the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo and his constant calls for responsible behavior. There is no national leadership apart from Dr. Fauci (whose name sake horse just won at Keeneland). Inexplicably, common sense safety measures have become a politicized matter.
But it is foolhardy to think that Saratoga Springs is immune from the terrifying spike in cases (and deaths) from around the country. This is not the time to relax our guard, particularly with events likely to attract people from around the country. The Chamber of Commerce should promote long-tern economic recovery and not leap at the first shiny object that presents itself.
Horse racing is gradually resuming in the Northeast with Belmont starting on June 3 and Saratoga Race Course scheduled for its original opening day of July 16. The training tracks at both locations have been operating under safety protocols imposed by the New York Racing Association.
Spectators, including owners, were not permitted for either live racing or the morning workouts; indeed, only those working directly with the horses and personnel necessary for running the track and televising the races were allowed in the facility.
I think a more pressing question, however, should be whether the Saratoga meet takes place in Saratoga Springs or moved downstate to Belmont and/or Aqueduct. After watching the disgraceful scene – in Saratoga Springs – by the owners and friends of Tiz the Law watching the Belmont Stakes who were packed together with barely a mask in sight, I am staunchly opposed to making the risk in this community any higher.
Martin Panza, NYRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing, argued (in The Thoroughbred Daily News podcast of May 21) that the “town needs us.” Local business interests understandably want to re-open the hotels, restaurants, bars and retail shops that have been shuttered. The race meet is not just an important part of their annual revenue, but an essential one.
By all accounts, NYRA has done an effective job of minimizing the virus risks on the Belmont Park backstretch while allowing training to continue. It is, of course, located near the New York City and Long Island “hot spots,” and has experienced multiple infections and, even worse, a death. But their extensive protocols appear to have the problem contained. Nonetheless, the backstretch experienced 85 positive (and recovered) cases from a population of 585. Keeneland reported 27 positives from a resident population of 200. (The numbers are from BloodHorse.com. I do not know what the dates are, which would inform on infection trends.)
That does not mean, however, that it would be smart to move a substantial piece of that operation up the Northway. In addition to hundreds of horses – and the humans needed to transport them – there are hundreds of workers necessary to care for them. The Saratoga area has been relatively quiet in terms of the virus over the past several weeks. Introducing a significant influx of people who, by necessity, work in close proximity to their colleagues – and may be coming from a virus hot spot – is inviting a spread.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that last year’s crowds are not coming back this year. And I will hazard a guess that for every track worker coming for the meet who goes to a bar or restaurant there will be a local resident who is going to stay away. It’s not that the track worker is inherently a risk, but that there is an increased risk, particularly in the confined indoor spaces where the virus thrives.
The last thing those businesses need, however, is a resurgence in the virus that results in either further restrictions or – even worse – a lack of public confidence that will have prospective customers staying away in droves for a prolonged period of time. And as much as I hate to say it, the safe practices that have been observed in New York may be starting to fade.
Governor Cuomo said a week ago that the state has received 25,000 complaints from residents about the multiple failures to maintain safe practices, including congested parks, restaurants and bars. The Onion “reported” that the Mayor of Dallas told residents “they would soon officially be entering Phase 4 of pretending the coronavirus was over.”
Lone Star Park just tweeted a welcome to fans attending the track’s reopening with a photograph of spectators standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the rail, even though Texas is one of the states experiencing a terrifying increase in infections. Delaware Park recently resumed racing and permitted spectators. Shortly after opening, however, it was forced to cut back to just 1,000 patrons for reasons not reported. But I think we can surmise that it was irresponsible behavior on the part of fans that compelled the reduction.
But NYRA’s concern for the town (and I do not doubt their sincerity) is perhaps secondary to their own business interests. Martin Panza said it was important for the races to actually be run at the Spa in an interview with Bill Finley quoted in Thoroughbred Daily News on April 26:
“Even if we cannot have fans at the track, the handle for a Saturday at Saratoga will be close to double what we would handle if the races were at Belmont and certainly a lot more than what we would handle at Aqueduct. Being up there will allow us to handle a lot more money on our races and that means much larger purses.”
Now I am far from an expert on racetrack economics, but what Panza says about the handle does not make a lot of sense. If he is saying that a typical Saratoga handle exceeds a typical Belmont handle and far exceeds a typical Aqueduct handle, I cannot imagine anyone would disagree. But I think the recent experience with wagering in the United States strongly suggests that his concern is overblown. And it is the Spa’s racing product – top horses,lots of turf and two-year-olds – that is the attraction.
Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby is a must for racing fans every spring, but not to the level this year’s split divisions revealed. Oaklawn attracted a seismic 252 per cent increase in handle for the full card over last year’s version. Churchill Downs’ card on May 23 had five interesting stakes – a Grade III being the only graded one – and saw a 208 per cent increase over the same day last year according to TDN.
The TDN has been publishing handle figures from major tracks compared to comparable days a year ago. These are recent changes for Belmont Park with increases this year compared to last year:
- Friday, June 5 + 55%
- Saturday, June 6 + 81%
- Sunday, June 7 + 85%
- Thursday, June 11 + 85%
- Friday, June 12 + 21%
- Saturday, June 13 + 12%
- Sunday, June 14 + 59%
- Thursday, June 18 + 86%
- Friday, June 19 + 130%
The only decrease in handle from a comparable day in 2019 was – of all things – the Belmont Stakes which handled 34% less than it did for the same race card lasy year. But as Martin Panza would be the first to tell you, field size is one of the most definitive factors in handle size. So, here are the field sizes for the five graded stakes preceding this year’s Belmont Stakes: 5, 6, 5, 7, 8. Sunday’s card bounced back with a 62% increase over last year’s Sunday of Belmont weekend..
Most wagering, even when there are spectators, does not take place at a mutual window in an historic grandstand. I looked at the handles on eight days in the middle of last year’s meet. On every day I looked at – whether it was a Wednesday or a Saturday – the amount wagered through off-track sites was between three and four times that bet on track. So Panza’s argument that NYRA will lose the on-track handle is true, but the impact is blunted by the above data.
The Saratoga meet is obviously an important event for both the racing scene and the Saratoga community. Having some of the best racing in the world moved temporarily to either Belmont or Aqueduct should not have a significant effect on NYRA’s handle. But it could have a devastating impact on Saratoga Springs that could take years for a recovery. It should not be a difficult call.
As a Saratoga resident, I have witnessed a disturbing lack of compliance with health mandates. Perhaps if the city or state park replaced its flashing sign of “Please use a face covering” with “Wear a Mask, Tiz the Law,” maybe the Sackatoga people could comply instead of being the poster child for a Covid-19 hotspot on national TV.
I received President Trump’s Coronavirus guidelines on March 28, two days before they were to expire. I have updated the guidelines to reflect his actual words and conduct since the crisis became a public concern:
- Ignore the advice of public health professionals and doctors;
- Ignore the advice of the intelligence community on the threats posed by the coronavirus and the lack of preparedness by the government;
- Minimize the threat posed to Americans and assure them I have everything under control;
- Don’t utilize available tests, but instead botch a new one so that even today testing is inadequate;
- When finally recognizing the severity of the threat, don’t take effective steps to acquire necessary protective equipment for health care professionals and ventilators for patients;
- Deny such necessary equipment to states headed by Governors who are not sufficiently obsequious such as Andrew Cuomo and that “young woman” from Michigan;
- Just make stuff up, whether it be “alternative facts” (lies) or unproven medical treatments;
- Blame the media, Obama, and Democrats for any shortcomings;
- “I take no responsibility at all”;
- The ONLY PRIORITY is my re-election.
Trump has been making a lot of noise about relaxing his original guidelines to “get America back to work.” This is something that will have to happen at some point, although not in time for there to be the “packed churches” on Easter that he somehow thinks is a good idea. Any such effort should be dependent on adequate testing in concert with the advice of people who know what they are talking about.
The bottom line is: follow the advice of health care professionals and ignore Trump.
This seems like a good opportunity to embark on any number of projects an inveterate procrastinator can acquire. I have been in desperate need of cleaning out and reorganizing my files, so I grabbed a big one thinking I would be able to toss many of the clippings in it.
So I took the one labeled “Drugs I.” This is from back in the day when I thought a single file could contain several years of reporting on that topic. Nowadays, they are labeled “Drugs 2019, file 1,” “Drugs 2019, file 2,” etc. Since this file had articles from 2012 and 2013, I assumed I would be tossing most of them.
I did get rid of some, but here are some titles of ones that were unfortunately resonant:
- “A Derby Win, but a Troubled Record for a Trainer,” New York Times, May 10, 2012;
- “Facing horse racing’s drug problem,” ESPN.com, June 1, 2012;
- “Facing the leadership deficit,” ESPN.com, August 14, 2012;
- “Medication Reform Takes Step Toward Reality,” BloodHorse.com, December 14, 2012;
- “On Salix, Kentucky Feeling Alone on Ledge,” BloodHorse.com, March 14, 2013;
- “Lasix ban: Breeders’ Cup hand forced by waning support,” DRF.com, March 21, 2013;
- “Handicapping Dopers at the Racetrack,” New York Times, August 16, 2013;
- “Medication Reforms Carry Sense of Urgency,” BloodHorse.com, August 13, 2013;
- “Law Panelists Note Progress in Drug Reform,” BloodHorse.com, August 13, 2013;
- “Sheikh Mohammed launches inquiry after police seize drugs from Dubai jet,” The Guardian, September 29, 2013;
- “Uniform medication reform again a major topic at Round Table,” DRF, August 13, 2013;
- “Racing’s credibility on line over lack of doping transparency,” independent,ie, December 9, 2013;
- And, my favorite: “Time for racing leaders to get their heads out of the sand,” TDN link to tenoonan.com, December 11, 2013.
I am guessing the only ones not disturbed by that listing are those who have successfully resisted or slow-walked any meaningful reform in a sport desperately in need of a significant overhaul. I did not get a headline that reflected the remarks of Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, at the 2012 Jockey Club Round Table. But it is a sad reminder of how long an alternative that could save racing as a sport has been out there.
There are some sidelights that make the above-list even more disturbing. The first is that the 2012 Derby reference means that in three of the last eight Kentucky Derbies there have been questions about impermissible drugs by the trainers of horses who crossed the finish line in first place.
The other is the reference to Sheikh Mohammed, head of racing’s most powerful operation, and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates. The Guardian reports that “[t]housands of pounds worth of unlicensed products – including steroidal injections, anaesthetics and anti-inflammatories that have been described a ‘potentially toxic and dangerous to horses’ – were seized and destroyed by the UK Border Agency….” The investigator appointed by the Sheikh to conduct the investigation is his wife, Princess Haya. While she is indeed a respected horse person in her own right, it’s his wife.
The sad part of this is that any of those headlines could have been written this year – except, of course, for ones suggesting progress on drug reform efforts. Racing is living on borrowed time, and the time for changes was evident eight years ago.