Medication Oversight: Clean Sport Should Be the Goal

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There is no grander event in American horse racing than the Kentucky Derby, and it is critically important for the Derby to have a fair and level playing field for every one of its participants. It is a fundamental right for the horses and their connections, and something that will keep this great racing tradition alive and well for many years to come.

Those rights extend to the wagering public, which will bet more than $130 million on Saturday’s Run for the Roses. They must have confidence that the race is fair and the participants are free of performance enhancing drugs.

Travis Tygart, who will forever be known as the man who busted Lance Armstrong, one of the sporting world’s all-time biggest cheaters, spoke about athletic rights during last year’s Jockey Club Round Table Conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He was talking about human athletics, but it applies to horse racing, too.

“For one individual athlete to agree to a set of rules, to be robbed, literally, by someone else who doesn’t abide by those rules is an injustice,” Tygart said. “It’s a travesty. We think it’s the biggest injustice that exists in sport.”

Tygart is the chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a private, non-profit organization created in 2000 to help clean up the mess that had plagued the Olympics due to the use of performance-enhancing substances.

The Olympics weren’t alone. Baseball around the turn of the century had become almost laughable because of the doping-enhanced home run records being set by the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. And cycling, of course, would become the poster child for cheating, with Lance Armstrong winning the first of his now-vacated seven consecutive Tour de France titles in 1999.

Since then, Olympic medals have been stripped from disgraced stars like Marion Jones, and some of Major League Baseball’s most cherished records are looked upon with embarrassment because of the way they were achieved. Lance Armstrong’s reputation has been completely destroyed. Efforts to clean up sports and restore the inherent rights of its participants have been led by Tygart and the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which only last year had been attacked by a Wisconsin Congressman with concocting a “novel conspiracy theory” against Armstrong.

Tygart and USADA are being called upon again, this time by New Mexico’s U.S. Sen. Udall, who will be co-sponsoring (with Reps. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania) new legislation, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013.

(To read a draft of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, click here.)

If that sounds familiar, it should. Udall co-sponsored legislation two years ago that had a similar name. That bill went nowhere, despite hearings on Capitol Hill and the field that identified serious doping problems in our sport.

Udall listened to criticism, much of which centered on the inefficiency of the federal government to regulate something like horseracing. He rewrote the legislation, moving proposed responsibility for oversight of horseracing’s medication rules and regulations from the Federal Trade Commission to USADA.

The draft of the bill calls for USADA, within one year of passage, to develop, publish and maintain rules for both prohibited substances and treatments and permitted substances and treatments for racehorses. Those rules would include guidelines for use of acceptable medications and withdrawal times. Unlike the previous bill, this is not an all-out ban on drugs in horses.

The bill imposes a ban on medication within 24 hours of a race, with the exception of anti-bleeder medication furosemide, for which there is a two-year transition or phase-out. That transition is limited to 3-year-olds and up, in accordance with RCI model rules and within a veterinary-client-patient relationship.

The bill calls for USADA to consult with racing commissions, tracks, horsemen’s groups and others to develop these rules, and to develop programs for education, research, testing, and adjudication of the regulations.

It also includes provisions for penalties: a one-and-done license revocation for the most serious offenses and a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule for lesser violations. However, if someone who has been caught cheating agrees to cooperate with investigators, they may receive reduced penalties. That is an interesting inclusion in light of the fact that it took a similar rule in human athletics to crack the Lance Armstrong curtain of silence among his cycling teammates. Baseball, which continues to be plagued by scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs, has no such rule in its collective agreement with the players’ union.

The teeth of the bill once again relies on interstate wagering, which falls under the authorization of the federal government’s Interstate Horseracing Act. To conduct wagering across state lines, racing associations would have to have the consent of USADA and agreements on terms, conditions, rules, and payments to the agency to fund the expenses of the various programs.

No costs shall by paid by the federal government, which currently provides about $9 million annually to USADA.

Its last tax filing, 2011, shows that Colorado Springs, Colo.-based USADA has an annual budget of $13.8 million, including $5.2 million in salaries (topped by the total compensation package of $364,464 for Tygart). It does not come close to testing the number of samples currently screened for therapeutic drug overages and illegal drugs in horse racing by various labs around the United States. This legislation would require considerable growth by USADA to take on the responsibility for regulating drugs in horse racing.

There were immediate concerns from some horse racing organizations that the legislation is unnecessary. Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said in a statement that turning over medication regulation to USADA could weaken the movement toward a cleaner sport less reliant on medication and suggested the federal government should consider giving some of USADA’s $9 million to horse racing organizations.

What Martin isn’t saying is that he and many others would have much of their power and influence neutralized or vacated by USADA.

Leaders of The Jockey Club, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association cited recent progress toward state regulatory acceptance of model rules that reduce the number of permitted drugs in racing. Still, uniformity of drug rules and penalties across state lines remains an unachieved goal after decades of trying by various regulatory agencies and industry groups. The quality of laboratories and collaboration among the chemists is also a longstanding concern, despite efforts to move forward on an accreditation process.

Will the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013 gain any more traction than its predecessor? That’s hard to say at this stage, although it doesn’t take much to kill legislation that is not a high priority in Congress. A powerful legislator like Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Minority Leader, could probably stop this bill if he wanted to.

But there’s a lot more to like and a lot less to dislike about the current proposal than the 2011 version. A level playing field and a clean sport should be the goal for all of us. USADA has a proven track record of cleaning up sports that had become corrupted by performance enhancing drugs.

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  • LouisBille

    Let’s assume this passes and the Pletchers/Motts/Bafferts of the world continue to win all the big races. What will the losers complain about then? I’m not claiming all these guys are necessarily above-board 100% of the time, just that the thought of accurate and complete drug testing doing little to ‘level the playing field’ intrigues me. Do many really believe that drugs are the ONLY reason these barns win?

    I envision years from now when the powers that be institute a salary cap on horse owners/trainers in a further effort to drag down the successful outfits. (No trainer can have more than $10 million of horseflesh in his stable at any one time, for example.) Owners can still spend like drunken sailors but will be forced to give some horses to under-performing conditioners.

    Seriously, what’s to stop that – all other major US sports have them…yet teams like the Lakers and Yankees continue to win, and pay huge luxury tax penalties.

    • Tinky

      While you are apparently unaware of the definition of a “straw man” argument, you have, ironically, provided a perfect illustration with this sentence:

      “Do many really believe that drugs are the ONLY reason these barns win?”

      You see, not only are there not “many” who believe such nonsense, but NO ONE does. In other words, not a SINGLE person has claimed that drugs are the ONLY reason those barns win.

      Oh, and by the way, lumping Bill Mott in with the other two trainers you mention underscores your ignorance of the topic.

      • LouisBille

        US Starts per medication violation:

        Todd Pletcher 2,413
        William Mott 2,444

        • Tinky

          Keep on digging. Listed medication violations have virtually nothing to do with cheating, or PEDs.

          • Aunt Bea

            That wasn’t your attitude when you gleefully watched Dutrow hang as part of the mob.

          • Tinky

            Assuming that you are responding to me, my “attitude” relating to the Dutrow affair was based on the coincidental fact that he had been a front-line cheater. I never asserted, nor implied that his “official” list of violations reflected that fact, though it did reflect his arrogance and disdain for rules of any kind.

          • Aunt Bea

            Well then, share your “secret knowledge” with us then, what specifically constituted his “cheating” that they couldn’t catch? And source of your secret knowledge would prove helpful to your claims of what I’m sure you’re gonna say: “blood doping” “fast metabolizing” “growth hormones” and your usual nonsense.

          • Aunt Bea

            Ya see, Tinky? You’re an autodidact. Self taught. You read this stuff in a book, or more likely, on a blog. Maybe some “source” is lying to you. Nobody taught you this stuff, you dont have personal experience with the things you say, plus you have an agenda.
            It’s really not so different from my philosophy of getting drugs out of racehorses because I’m getting so embarassed by the abuse and deaths its disgusting. But I do not make things up to sound educated, or to drive an agenda.

          • Tinky

            Resorting to ridiculous ad hominem attacks yet again?

            Pathetic.

          • Aunt Bea

            Well hell, if you don’t like it, rebut it! And please dispose the phony-ass Latin, will ya??

          • Aunt Bea

            The great Latin scholar, “Tinky the Phony”

          • Hopefieldstables

            Oh the irony

    • G. Rarick

      You seem to misunderstand what “level playing field” means in sports. It means that the athletes, in this case the horses, compete on their merits, not on their tolerance to whatever combination of legal (or illegal, but mostly legal) concoctions their trainers have shot them full of in order to “help” them withstand the rigors of racing. A level playing field means drug-free horses. Drug-free, if you have trouble understanding the term, means no lasix, no bute, no corticosteroids, etc. (and yes, no frog juice, etc….)

      • Hossracergp

        Yeah, because racing is so much more respectable when the horses feel the pain. At least we can hold our heads high, as we proudly proclaim we are a clean sport while the horses limp around the track till they make it back to the barn and drop their heads and start coughing. Racing is not in the best interest of the horse.You’d have to be blind to work in the industry and not see it everyday. Ignorance is bliss if your not a racehorse.

        • G. Rarick

          Well, yes, actually, racing IS much more respectable when the horse feels the pain, because then he’s more likely to pull himself up rather than race until his leg snaps, treating the crowd to a flapping open fracture. You should open your eyes to how the sport COULD be. My horse won yesterday, besting a field of 18 (yes 18). He pranced back to the barn happy on all four legs and didn’t cough once. The only medication he’s received in the past year was a flu shot. It IS possible.

          • Matt Clarke

            Gina, congrats on the win. People like Hossracegrp cannot comprehend the simple fact that horses that “limp” around the track should not be in training let alone racing. his or her perception is that your horse “limped” around then limped to the barn wherin he promptly dropped his head and bled because you are cruel enough to race him sans lasix. If any horse needs theraputic medications in order to be sound enough to train that horse should not be in training. Unfortunately as you well know it is impossible to explain this to some people in U.S. racing and you never ever will. That is the sad state of affairs which is slowly but surely killing U.S. racing.

          • Janet delcastillo

            You and gina are on the right track…horses shouldnt be hurting while racing or training…young healthy animals are capable of running in a race…if they need drugs then rest them it is that simple. Congratulations Gina…your horse should be able to race for years if respected!
            Remember…soreness or limping is the first sign of a problem…masking those signs create the breakdown later!

          • Hopefieldstables

            Might be useful to mention Gina that your horse won at the mere distance of a mile, the SHORTEST distance on the days eight race card which saw two races at 10.5f, two races at 12f and one at 15.5f on the soft turf.

            And not a lasix needle in sight.

            How is this possible?

          • Janet delcastillo

            Gina- every one is happy here because we will have “Uniform Medication rules” in the Mid -atlantic. This is a list of allowable medications…is this “Drug Free Racing”?

            Who needs illegal meds with these permissible ones???

            PAINKILLERS

            14 days out

            Firocoxib

            48 hours out

            Butorphenol

            Diclofenac

            24 hours out

            Flunixin (Banamaine)

            Ketophren

            Phenylbutazone (Bute)

            ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES

            7 Days out

            Betamethasone

            Methylprednisolone

            Triamcinolone acetonide

            72 hours out

            Dexamethasone

            48 hours out

            DMSO (Topically)

            PREDNISOLONE to be determined

            CLENBUTEROL

            14 days out

            MUSCLE RELAXANT

            48 hours out

            Dantrolene

            Methocarbamol

            ANESTHETIC

            72 hours out

            Mepivacaine

            THIS LIST WAS TAKEN FROM MID ATLANTIC THOROUGHBRED MAGAZINE..APRIL 2013

        • Hopefieldstables

          If racing is not in the interest of the horse there can no more powerful motivation to change the sport than the truth of that statement.

          It is a sport and if systematically harmful to horses, then please change it or please stop.

          They are the only ethical courses of action.

      • Hossracergp

        Many of those medications are beneficial to a race horse. The problem isn’t when they are properly used to make an animal more comfortable while doing it’s job. The problem is that they are abused and too often they are abused. Plenty of trainers are gamblers not horseman. They are glorified butchers and should never have gotten a license in the first place. But money talks and this is a game about money played with money.

    • Kris

      LouisBille,
      Bill Mott deserves better than to be mentioned with Baffert and Pletcher.

    • JEM

      Big barns with quality horse flesh will still be in the winners circle. I am not a hater of certain trainers. I am not jealous of the ones that opposed my surveillance fight in the SA Derby that I was accused of being jealous of. How can I be jealous of win tactics I would never consider doing to our own horses? That is not winning. I don’t care if the trainers/owners in question still beat me, it just needs to be a level playing field. Big barns buying at the top of the sales will always have a general advantage. Owners with multiple top notch horses will still be in all the big ones. That general logic, you have enough darts, you will hit something. However, you should be hitting the center of the board because you are a solid trainer with a talented horse and not a doping program. Some owners are just as at fault pushing trainers to get a horse to a race at all costs and turning the other cheek with the vet bill comes. Its become a giant merry-go-round rewarding the bad behavior. Talent will still win overall but it should be just that and not exaggerated talent and records being falsely broken due to doping. As long as medication and treatments are not regulated, there will be cheaters and horses running on more than talent. Regulate and you will have the closest you can get to clean real horse racing. You might even see another triple crown winner and you will see horses with more starts at older ages. Orb is a great example of putting security in place and allowing a solid trainer with a talented horse on oats & water cross the finish line. From a handicapping stand point on an off track, once pre-race security and testing took place in this years KY Derby everyone ended up where they should. We need pre-race security, out of competition testing, medication regulation and serious consequences for violators from a non-bias regulator like the USADA. I would gladly pay an extra fee upon entry to races for the USADA’s involvement…as long as organizations like the TOC/CHRB equally contribute (speaking from CA). After all isn’t that why they exist? Integrity, safety and protection, something they have lost sight of.

  • Tinky

    n/a

  • Beach

    To respond to the other comments, I think the point of “clean racing” is not necessarily “who wins”–BUT, a level playing field would be the fair way of doing things, from the lower claimers to the Derby and its contenders…and personally, I also see it, more importantly, in terms of horse/jockey safety and health. The concept really isn’t hard, kindergartners–”Your work may not ever be perfect, but you should always DO YOUR BEST”…

  • Barry Irwin

    USADA could prove critically important if they get the nod and are well funded, because they would represent the ONLY line of defense honest owners and trainers have on their side in detecting hitherto unknown substances used by cheating trainers to rig and demean our sport.
    I am not a loser and I am not complaining.
    But what I am doing is urging all of the people that want to see the game played on a level playing field to get together and support something positive that has the chance to get our game back to a sport we can all be proud of.
    Lance Armstrong supposedly never tested positive but USADA kicked his lying ass out of his sport and USADA can do the same thing in racing.
    Let’s get behind something like this.
    How could anybody be against this and on what grounds? Even the freaking Tea Party would like this because no Federal funds are involved.

    • Lost In The Fog

      This bill’s passage would transform the landscape of US horse racing in a profoundly positive way. It makes sense on every level. Sadly, many of the entrenched powers in the industry will fight tooth, fang and claw in an attempt to defeat it. Both the RCI and Jockey Club have already weighed in with carefully-crafted reactions that suggest, if you read between the lines, that they will be working against this bill. Who’s next?

      • Barry Irwin

        RCI yes, TJC no.

        • Lost In The Fog

          I certainly hope you are right about TJC but my interpretation of their press release on the subject (after running it through the “political speak filter”) didn’t make me feel too optimistic about what their position will ultimately be.

          • Barry Irwin

            Jockey Club likes USADA. They invited them to speak at the Round Table.

          • Lost In The Fog

            Thanks for that info Barry. Good to know.

    • Beach

      Thanks for being a heavy-hitter who weighs in positively on this. I hope there are more of you. And I’m also glad that someone besides me refers to that cyclist’s “lying ass”, and I’m a girl, but this is what happens when your father raises you in a steel foundry, the military, and boatyards. :-) If people are upset re: what Armstrong did, then cheats in horse racing are no different, and also put the health/safety of horses and jockeys at risk. I’m just a nobody who chose academia over college/Olympic athletics, but I played competitive sports for years, as did my father(baseball, golf, softball) before me. It’s high time to purge anyone who would conduct him/herself like a DISGRACE–as the USADA has done with Mr. Tour de France(NOT)… :-/

    • Aunt Bea

      You’re correct they kicked his lying ass out, and they did it on the basis of sworn testimony of a lot of co-conspirators, not just because his competitors thought he was “obnoxious”.

  • Kris

    Should the S.I.S.A., 2013 make it through a long legislative process and become the law of the land, will Mike Repole throw his version of a child’s temper-tantrum and no longer race his horses, as he did at last years Breeder’s Cup? Will Gary West threaten to sue Uncle Sam? A complete lack of leadership in horse racing has led us to this place. For those who like to drug their horses: I hope you’re feeling the heat. Message to Gary West: The Feds won’t fold as the BC Committee did earlier this year.

  • Barry Irwin

    Where in the heck s Ray Bolger when we need him? Where have all the ad hominem attacks on all the straw men all gone?
    Maybe they are taking a couple of days off for the3yo Classics.

    On an even more relevant note, Ray Bolder was a Thoroughbred owner in California, well after his days in the Wizard of Oz as the scarecrow.

  • Red Rider

    Surely the states officials will open up, fully cooperate, and provide testing and other information to the USADA. Requiring individual human athletes to cooperate to play is not the same as requiring hundreds, if not thousands of trainers, owners, vets, racing officials etc to do the same. So what if USADA doesn’t sanction an race or horse? Unless the jurisdictions in charge and all players submit to their authority, game over.

    • Sean Kerr

      I do: if you read the draft bill the threat is that simulcast will be shut off. The states have no say over that one. If all parties don’t submit to USADA then they won’t be able to accept wagers.

  • JEM

    Big barns with quality horse flesh will still be in the winners circle. I am not a hater of certain trainers. I am not jealous of the ones that opposed my surveillance fight in the SA Derby that I was accused of being jealous of. How can I be jealous of win tactics I would never consider doing to our own horses? That is not winning. I don’t care if the trainers/owners in question still beat me, it just needs to be a level playing field. I care about who trained a stallion I breed our mares too as DNA is passed on but doping is gone by the time they hit the breeding shed. Big barns buying at the top of the sales will always have a general advantage. Owners with multiple top notch horses will still be in all the big ones. That general logic, you have enough darts, you will hit something. However, you should be hitting the center of the board because you are a solid trainer with a talented horse and not a doping program. Some owners are just as at fault pushing trainers to get a horse to a race at all costs and turning the other cheek with the vet bill comes. Its become a giant merry-go-round rewarding the bad behavior. Talent will still win overall but it should be just that and not exaggerated talent and records being falsely broken due to doping. As long as medication and treatments are not regulated, there will be cheaters and horses running on more than talent. Regulate and you will have the closest you can get to clean real horse racing. You might even see another triple crown winner and you will see horses with more starts at older ages. Orb is a great example of putting security in place and allowing a solid trainer with a talented horse on oats & water cross the finish line. From a handicapping stand point on an off track, once pre-race security and testing took place in this years KY Derby everyone ended up where they should. We need pre-race security, out of competition testing, medication regulation and serious consequences for violators from a non-bias regulator like the USADA. I would gladly pay an extra fee upon entry to races for the USADA’s involvement…as long as organizations like the TOC/CHRB equally contribute (speaking from CA). After all isn’t that why they exist? Integrity, safety and protection, something they have lost sight of.

  • Sean Kerr

    The newly proposed legislation draft by Congressmen Pitt, Udall and Whitfield is an absolutely bold step in the right direction. It is just shy of brilliant in solving the puzzle of bringing credible and effective power over horse racing. It is almost there, but not quite.

    The bill just falls short due to only one weakness, and it is a critical one: it empowers and gives ultimate authority to the wrong organization. The choice of assigning USADA this role is certainly a better idea than the previous concept of making the FTC the authority.

    The right body to be granted the awesome responsibility of such power is a national racing and wagering commission. USADA should be answerable to that authority.

    The congressmen have all but solved the puzzle. USADA would be a great asset to getting a grip on horse racing. But it is not the solution; it is only part of the solution.

    We are almost there: the bill paves the way and can make this happen.

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