The definition of the term “illegal” has always been a bit fuzzy in the horse racing world, especially among trainers. Several years ago I asked a very prominent horseman point blank if he was giving the blood-doping agent EPO to his horses as racing’s rumor mill had it. His response was a non-answer. “It ain’t illegal.” I assured him that the drug was, in fact, quite illegal, and that there were harsh penalties for anyone who got caught using it.
His reply surprised me. “How can it be illegal if they can’t test for it?” he asked.
Reminded me a little of former President Bill Clinton’s testimony to a grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” Clinton said, explaining why he told White House aides there was nothing going on between he and the intern.
The definition of what’s illegal and when are legitimate questions concerning the phased-in ban of anabolic steroids by the California Horse Racing Board. Monday’s search of the barn of Del Mar’s leading trainer John Sadler and comments by state regulators indicate not everyone has been on the same page in regard to the ban on steroids. The CHRB and its medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, hoped all trainers and veterinarians would follow the guidelines suggested during the process of reclassifying anabolic steroids from Class 4 to Class 3 drugs (according to Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines). That apparently hasn’t been the case.
Sadler said he and his attorney, Donald Calabria, have discussed possible litigation as a result of the barn search.
The first directive was issued by the CHRB May 12. That was followed by a May 26 informational Q&A that suggested, among other things, that trainers and veterinarians “not use anabolic steroids beyond this point.” But the Q&A also said there would be a period beginning July 1 when testing for steroids would be conducted but nothing more than a warning letter would be sent for positive tests. On July 24, CHRB executive director Kirk Breed issued a directive saying, effective Aug. 1, the board would begin to “strictly enforce all regulations concerning anabolic steroids and will no longer issue ‘unofficial notices’ when the test samples reveal unauthorized levels of anabolic steroids …complaints will be filed against trainers or other licensees alleged to have violated the regulations.”
Then, on Aug. 8, Breed issued another advisory saying the CHRB “will begin enforcement of the amended (steroids) rule” effective with races run Sept. 4.
From my reading of those directives and advisories, steroids became “illegal” on Aug. 1, with violations going on a trainer’s record, but there would be no penalty for positive tests until Sept. 4 because of California’s bureaucratic process of adopting new regulations. Trainers would effectively be on an “honor system” between those two dates. That’s kind of like saying it’s illegal to go over the speed limit on a highway this month, but the police will only give you a warning if they catch you speeding. But next month, when they start issuing tickets with penalties, you’d better slow down!
“We are trying to implement this enforcement regulation in the most logical, timely way,” CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro said in one of the advisories. “We have given notice to the owners, trainers, veterinarians and other track personnel. It is part of the process. The administration of all anabolic steroids to horses in competition must stop immediately. Complaints will be issued. The hammer is coming down. In this way, we are protecting the public and all of those who are playing by the rules.”
Apparently it’s a velvet hammer that chairman Shapiro is wielding until Sept. 4. And I wonder how the public is being protected by having rules that have no teeth for enforcement. While most trainers followed the guidelines, some apparently have not, and the betting public has no way of knowing who is and who isn’t giving steroids to their horses.
One of Sadler’s principal owners is Gary Barber, who with his brother, Cecil, has won more races at Del Mar this season than anyone else. (Another of Sadler’s owners is CHRB commissioner Jerry Moss.) Barber was extremely upset about the barn search and any suggestions that Sadler is doing anything illegal.
“John is a stand-up guy and there is no reason to believe that there is anything he’s done beyond what’s in the rules and regulations,” Barber told the Paulick Report. “It’s quite shocking to me that these people without any evidence or knowledge have gone on a witch hunt and are trying to recover from the mistakes they made themselves.
“It’s all about steroids,” Barber continued. “I’m a total supporter for getting rid of them. We’re all for cleaning up the game. Lots of people have been receiving letters (warning of positive tests for steroids). These letters are purely notifications that in the future this will not be tolerated.
“You either should ban something or not; there’s no in between. They should have said ‘no use, period.’ But now they regret the decision they made and are trying to find scapegoats. Wait till Sept. 4 and go after everybody at the same time. Write the rules and abide by them.”
CHRB executive director Breed, commenting in a published report, admitted it was a “mistake” to phase in the ban on steroids.
Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report
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