As a racing fan, I look forward to the Breeders' Cup with great anticipation each year. And there are several reasons for that.
I get to see some of the world's best horses, trainers and jockeys competing. There are full fields in every race. There is the mystique of international competition and, yes, even the prospect of rooting for the home team (North American-based horses).
And, of course, there is the challenge of handicapping, trying to figure out which horse is most likely to outshine all others in his or her event.
There is another aspect of the Breeders' Cup that appeals to me and draws me in, and I am quite sure many others share my perspective. And that is the unparalleled commitment made each year by Breeders' Cup, the host track, and the regulatory commission to ensure fair competition.
On a professional level, I am particularly interested in this year's event in the wake of a poll I conducted earlier this year for The Jockey Club among approximately 800 avid bettors. I presented the findings at the Round Table Conference in August, and I'll briefly revisit some of those results:
- Drug and integrity concerns aren't just “image” or long-term sustainability problems for Thoroughbred racing. They are also a mortal threat to the business model.
- There are widespread concerns about drugs and the integrity of racing – and more among frequent and big bettors than anyone else.
- Eighty-six percent of big bettors, those who bet more than $10,000 each month, said they considered illegal drug use when betting at certain tracks and states.
- Seventy-six percent of bettors said they avoided betting at some tracks and states.
- Eighty-two percent supported the idea of publishing all drug testing results, with all drug levels included in the reports, to demonstrate that the sport is clean.
- Sixty-five percent of big bettors strongly support new, massive fines for trainers and 75 percent supported longer suspensions for trainers.
- Among big bettors, 79% supported more out-of-competition testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
This group, and really any other big bettor or casual fan of the sport, should take great comfort in knowing what steps are being taken to ensure the integrity of the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park on November 1 and 2.
According to Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), the following protocols will be in effect for the 30th running of the Breeders' Cup:
- As it has done for the past 20 years or so, Breeders' Cup will have an international team of veterinarians on hand conducting pre-race inspections throughout Breeders' Cup week. This year, they will come from England, Canada, Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
- Out-of-competition testing will be conducted at 10 different locations, even some international venues. Twenty-five percent of all horses pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup will be tested randomly, and the samples will be analyzed before race day.
- TCO2 testing will be conducted on every horse approximately 35 – 40 minutes before the horse is scheduled to compete.
- The first four finishers in every race, and any others the stewards select, will undergo post-race testing for illegal drugs. Processing of those results will begin the afternoon of Sunday, November 3, and the results are expected back Tuesday, November 5.
- Breeders' Cup and the CHRB will have their own teams of investigators from around the country on hand, and starting 72 hours before they are scheduled to race, every horse competing in the Breeders' Cup will be under constant observation by security personnel. That observation will be in force until the horse reaches the test barn or its own barn after the race.
While it may be unreasonable to expect state racing commissions to afford such vigilance, this is a model program that other racing venues should aspire to imitate as closely as possible.
It would be good for the athletes, good for the sport, and, in both the short term and the long term, good for the bottom line.
Robert Green is a Principal at Penn Schoen Berland, the nationally known research-based consulting firm whose clients include political figures such former President Bill Clinton, former Senator Hillary Clinton, and corporations such as Microsoft. He has examined drug and integrity issues for The Jockey Club in recent years.
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