Do you remember the 2012 TheNew York Times(NYT) exposé on horse racing titled, “BREAKDOWN, Death and disarray at America's racetracks?”
The lead photo accompanying the story was the dead carcass of a racehorse. The text beneath photo read as follows: “A 2-year-old quarter horse named Teller All Gone broke a front leg in a race on Sept. 3 at Ruidoso Downs Race Track in New Mexico and was euthanized. His body was then dumped in a junkyard next to an old toilet at Ruidoso, a short walk from where he had been sold at auction the previous year.”
No group was taken to the woodshed with more fervor in the NYT series than the Quarter Horse racing industry, in general, and New Mexico racing, in particular. It was simply an embarrassment of international proportions.
In Thoroughbred racing, no event in recent memory had spurred more reform than the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles after the running of the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The NYT series along with that photograph was the Quarter Horse racing industry's “Eight Belles moment.”
The New Mexico Racing Commission acted swiftly. Just three months after the exposé the NYT reported in a June 21, 2012, article:
“The New Mexico Racing Commission voted unanimously Thursday to limit the use of drugs in the state's horse racing industry and to impose tougher penalties on those who run afoul of its drug rules. The vote followed a public hearing last month at which every segment of the racing industry, including jockeys, horsemen, breeders and track managers, spoke in favor of the new rules.
“'I can't recall one person saying this is not a good idea for New Mexico,' said Robert M. Doughty III, chairman of the racing commission.
“The state's decision to adopt the new rules, among the toughest in the nation, was spurred largely by an investigative report in The New York Times in March, said Vince Mares, the commission's executive director.”
Since 2012, the Quarter Horse industry has initiated numerous reforms, several of which have been recommendations made by the influential American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) headquartered in Amarillo, Texas. Many of these reforms are thoughtful, progressive, and tough. All are well-meaning.
However, the doping continues.
They have failed because U.S. racing has a fractured regulatory structure with no single entity in charge. The insatiable appetite to cheat with performance-enhancing drugs among so many Quarter Horse horsemen places the remaining good folks in the industry with the herculean position of having to slay the powerful drug dragon while being armed with a only a provincial rulebook. The odds against their winning are, unfortunately, very, very long.
The dragon is winning
Let's take a look to see what has transpired in just the past few months at the current race meet in Ruidoso, N.M. — home to the prestigious $3,000,000 All American Futurity to be run on Labor Day. I've compiled the trainer suspensions from rulings issued by the board of stewards at Ruidoso Downs in the past three months from information provided on the New Mexico Racing Commission website and have included late breaking news from the Paulick Report regarding a finding of six albuterol positive tests from All American Futurity and Derby trial entrants.
I've limited the list to only the most serious drug positives — ones that are a category “A” penalty, which carry a recommended minimum one-year suspension. Absent are suspensions for this type of drugging of Thoroughbred racehorses. The reason is simply — there were none, even though the track races a mixed program of both breeds.
Albuterol: One positive post-race test and another six positives for out-of-competition samples from one trainer. Albuterol is a bronchodilator with anabolic properties. In horses the drug not only increases muscle mass but alters the muscle fiber type in such a way that aids a sprinting horse. Albuterol has been so abused in the Quarter Horse racing industry that is has been banned in New Mexico with no accepted concentration permitted (zero tolerance).
Clenbuterol: A total of six trainers suspended for six different positive tests. Clenbuterol, like albuterol, is a bronchodilator with anabolic properties. It also increases muscle mass and alters the muscle fiber type in such a way that it aids a sprinting horse. This drug has been so abused in the Quarter Horse racing industry that is has been banned in many states (including New Mexico) with no accepted concentration permitted (zero tolerance).
Doxapram: One positive test. Doxapram is a central nervous system stimulant.
Ostarine: A total of eight positive tests for one trainer. Of the eight positives, two were found in post-race samples while the remaining six were detected from out-of-competition samples. Ostarine is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration in the U.S. for use in humans or animals. It is purported to have androgenic properties.
Zilpaterol: One positive test. Zilpaterol is used in the cattle industry to produce muscle mass prior to slaughter. It increases muscle mass and alters the muscle fiber type in such a way that it aids a sprinting horse.
This all adds up to 23 horses drugged implicating 11 different trainers. And, by the way, the race meet isn't over.
This number of category “A” positive tests is unimaginable in Thoroughbred racing. I don't believe that any single Thoroughbred track in the country has had this many of these kinds of drugging in the past decade. (No doubt, the Thoroughbred racing industry has its own challenges, which make the establishment of a central anti-doping authority an imperative.) For three months at Ruidoso Downs, it's just business as usual.
Where are all the good and honest people?
I believe that many of the good, honest, hard-working lovers of horses that have tried the Quarter Horse racing game have given up in disgust. They refused to compete in a drug-fueled sport.
I group the remainder into three broad categories. On one side of the ledger is the win-at-all-cost cheaters who will do anything they can to steal a race win. On another column of the ledger is what I'll refer to as the grin-and-bare-it crowd — the good people. These are the small cadre of folks, or victims, who play by the rules and have been cheated time and time again. In the middle, and what I suspect is the largest group, are otherwise honest people who would normally play by the rules if there was a level playing field. But the playing field isn't level, so they play the system, too. It's easy for them to rationalize this behavior because it's their belief that everyone else is doing the same.
Is it too late?
This is where I would usually find myself saying that the passage of the federal legislation known as the Horseracing Integrity Act would solve the Quarter Horse industry's drug problem.
Now, I'm not so sure. Can this sport be saved by anyone? Has the drug-crazed conditioning of so many of its human participants over decades evolved Quarter Horse racing into an acknowledged cheating enterprise? When will the good people of the industry stand up, be counted and say, “No more!” I don't know the answer.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.
So, is the Horseracing Integrity Act the Quarter Horse industry's lifeline to respectability?
Of one thing I'm certain: What you guys are doin' now ain't workin'.
Former Indiana Horse Racing Commission executive director Joe Gorajec is a consultant whose clients include Horse Racing Reform, an industry initiative led by The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
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