When news broke last month that Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Masochistic tested positive for anabolic steroids after the race, many fans were shocked to learn steroids are still present in American racing. In California, a trainer must report the administration of anabolic steroids to a horse in his care to the California Horse Racing Board, which automatically places the horse on the veterinarian's list, preventing him from starting for 60 days.
In hindsight, there is a pretty clear pattern to Masochistic's vet's list history and his race record. The gelding was placed on the list for 60 days for medication on Aug. 29, 68 days before his Breeders' Cup runner-up finish. He was also placed on the list twice last spring: on April 4 and on May 2, the latter being 67 days before winning the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien. Furthermore, Masochistic was on the list for 60 days for medication April 15, 2015, 73 days before winning the G1 Triple Bend.
Anabolic steroids have their place in therapeutic applications, after a horse has suffered a serious illness or injury and is struggling to get back to normal weight again. Since Masochistic did not appear to be out of training in between his doses of steroid and his subsequent races, it would seem he was not recovering from serious illness or injury. For many people, this has raised the question: How many horses are training on steroids, and how many are entering races just after the 60-day cut-off has passed?
A look at the section of the veterinarian's list dealing with 60-day holds for medication suggests (reported) steroid administration is not as rampant as the imagination might suggest. In fact, Masochistic appears to be one of a few horses on the list from January to December 2016 getting repeated doses of steroids timed so the hold would expire within days of a next start.
According to a search conducted on a website maintained by InCompass Solutions (a Jockey Club company), 34 Thoroughbreds were added to the vet's list in California during this time with 60-day holds for medication use. According to Mike Marten, a spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board, this designation would only be used for Thoroughbreds receiving anabolic steroids.
Masochistic was one of three horses appearing on the list three times last year, and one of a total of five listed horses in the care of trainer Ron Ellis when recorded. (By our count, only Peter Miller had more horses on the list during this time, with a total of nine.) A majority – eighteen – have not started since they reportedly received steroids, though in some cases, they have not yet been released from the list.
Some trainers waited as long as six or seven months after the anabolic steroid administration to run back the horse in question. Others, like Ellis, cut it closer; seven started back less than 80 days after getting a steroid, and one horse even started back 63 days after administration. A search of ThoroughbredRulings.com suggests this start did not result in a violation for a positive post-race test.
Additionally, Masochistic is one of three stakes-level horses appearing on the list during this time; Peter Miller trainee Big League ran second in the G2 Best Pal on Aug. 13, coming off a maiden victory on July 30 at Del Mar. The vet's list indicates he received anabolic steroids on May 12, 79 days before that maiden run. The other was Silent Bird, who won the Damascus Stakes Nov. 4, received steroids on Feb. 11 but did not start again until winning an allowance optional claimer Oct. 2 for trainer Mark Glatt.
According to an analysis from handicapper Rick Gold, a possible handicapping angle from this data exists. Gold calculated an average return on investment of $4.75 based on the 15 horses with starts since coming off the list. Those horses paid between $0 and $29 for a $2 win bet in their first starts back.
What does all this tell us about anabolic steroids in California racing? It's probably a glass half full/glass half empty situation. On one hand, seeing just 34 names pop up in search results for 2016 suggests juicing is not happening with the approval of the sport's regulators in the majority of the state's 3,800-odd races. It's also encouraging this information is available and searchable for the public (as long as they can find it); California is one of two states with published vet's lists, and the only one with readily-accessible historical information sortable by horse, date, and trainer.
CHRB Equine Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur also points out the number of reported steroid administrations dropped when the state upped the vet's list 'jail time' from 30 to 60 days. In 2013, trainers reported 518 administrations, compared to 44 administrations over the 34 horses in 2016.
On the other hand, there's no way to know how completely trainers comply with the state's rule about steroid reporting, unless a secret administration trips up a post-race test. The case of Masochistic (as well as a few other horses on the list who were clearly working out and benefitting from a boost in steroid-fueled muscle mass) throws an uncomfortable light on the words issued from the board in 2008, after it unanimously voted to “ban” steroids.
“There is no place for anabolic steroids in competition sports, human or equine,” then-CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro told USA Today.
No place, except in the mornings, it seems.
Arthur hopes that too will change. Before the news about Masochistic broke, Arthur said the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium recommended a rule in February similar to one in the International Federation of Horseracing Authority's book allowing for a six-month period on the vet's list following administration, along with rigorous out-of-competition testing and associated penalties.
“As a practical matter, no one is going to keep a horse in training at a track in the U.S. for six months,” he said.
Instead, trainers will be forced to make the call: does a horse “need” steroids to run?
Note: Gold has since updated his original ROI calculation to include Masochistic's win in a Breeders' Cup prep race earlier this year. The correct ROI is $4.78, not $5.07.
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