Zarooni and Cibelli: A Study in Contrasts
On Jan. 27, a veterinarian hired by Tampa Bay Downs to conduct pre-race soundness examinations walked into trainer Jane Cibelli's barn and caught private vet Orlando Paraliticci allegedly injecting a horse's leg only hours before it was to race.
Ninety days later, no charges have been filed against Cibelli or the vet, though Tampa Bay Downs management found what happened egregious enough to kick Paraliticci off its premises. The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates horse racing in the state (and I use the term “regulates” loosely), has not even scheduled a hearing into the matter.
Ninety days. Nothing.
On April 9, officials with the British Horseracing Authority paid a visit to the Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket, England, where Mahmood Al Zarooni stabled 45 Thoroughbreds for Sheikh Mohammed's powerful Godolphin operation. They took samples from every horse, and 12 days later announced that 11 horses tested positive for anabolic steroids – four for stanozolol, best known by the trade name Winstrol, and seven for ethylestranol, or Nitrotain.
(Two years ago I wrote about the abuse of Nitrotain and another steroid, Paylean, better known on the backstretch as “pig juice” because it is designed to build muscle in swine. Click here for that article.)
Two days after the positive test results were made public, the British Horseracing Authority filed charges against Zarooni and notified Godolphin the horses were ineligible to race until further notice. A hearing date was conducted April 25, exactly 16 days after the raid at Moulton Paddocks.
Everyone in racing knows the results of that hearing now. Zarooni was handed an eight-year ban from the sport. The 11 horses that tested positive (along with four others the trainer admitted were also given steroids) are prohibited from racing for six months.
That is quite a study in contrasts.
In Florida, we've seen an alleged serious breach of conduct go 90 days without a hiccup from the regulatory agency that is supposed to police the sport. In England, it took just 16 days from the time out-of-competition samples were taken until a trainer's license was suspended for eight years for violating drug rules.
The British Horseracing Authority has actual authority to regulate the sport, to make the rules and to enforce them. Its leadership consists of people who take their jobs and the sport of horse racing quite seriously.
The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering is run by a lifetime bureaucrat who knows nothing about horseracing and likely cares less. And even if DPMW director Leon Biegalski did know or care, he is limited by law as to what he can do.
And that is the inherent flaw, not just in Florida but throughout American horse racing's regulatory structure. The sport does not control its own destiny and is regulated by too many people who just don't care.
Out-of-competition testing, as the world's most famous cheating athlete Lance Armstrong confessed, is what finally nailed him. That and a “biological passport,” which compares deviations in chemical parameters in an individual.
Out-of-competition testing nailed Mahmood Al Zarooni.
Yet in the United States, out-of-competition testing is done sporadically.
I'm no Einstein, but simple logic would suggest the following: a) If out-of-competition testing is the only way to detect cheating and doping of athletes (whether human or equine), and b) you are not doing out-of-competition testing, then c) you will not catch cheaters.
You know what Einstein said was the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.
Please, stop the insanity.
Footnote: If an American racing jurisdiction conducted out-of-competition testing and detected anabolic steroids in horses in training, it's unclear whether any charges would have been filed against a trainer. Winstrol (stanozolol) is a perfectly legal drug for training in the U.S. (it may be used only for legitimate therapeutic reasons in England), although it is now prohibited for racing, with a recommended withdrawal time of at least 30 days. Nitrotain (ethylestranol) is not FDA-approved for use in the U.S.
Footnote II: If you don't think American trainers are willing to cheat, remember this: in 2004, when the California Horse Racing Board did unannounced testing for illegal milkshakes (TCO2 levels, or bicarbonate loading), 23% of the horses tested were over a threshold level established for non-milkshaked horses. As more than one trainer has said to me over the years, “How can it be illegal if you don't test for it?”