That's how James Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, described the status quo for drug testing in American horse racing. Gagliano and others from The Jockey Club, along with a handful of reporters, had just been given a briefing on a report called “Raising the Standard of Testing and Enforcement,” prepared by Dan Singer, a senior partner and director of the media and entertainment division of McKinsey and Company consultants.
“This will define our activities over the next year,” added Gagliano, a reference to The Jockey Club's recently stated commitment to support federal legislation that would establish a national, non-governmental agency like the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to oversee medication and drug testing policy for racing in the United States.
The Jockey Club-commissioned report was an eye-opening reflection of North American racing's patchwork state-by-state regulatory system. While there has been progress in the area of uniform medication rules across state lines, McKinsey's research shows that testing and enforcement variances from one racing jurisdiction to another can render those uniform rules meaningless.
As Natalie Voss pointed out in a Paulick Report article earlier this year, some states are using the latest drug-screening technology while others rely on outdated testing methods and equipment. Worse, as Singer's report demonstrated, dollars invested in testing and enforcement vary wildly from one state to another, from a low of $55 per sample to a high of $230. In drug testing as in life, you get what you pay for.
Predictably, some states are better than others at detecting medication violators. They vary from a high detection rate of 74 per 10,000 samples in one state to a low of one per 10,000 in another. The median among the 19 states McKinsey researched was 18 violations per 10,000. And it's not just a matter of using labs that have accreditation from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. If a state uses an accredited lab but does not contract with that lab to use the latest technology or screen for more than a handful of drugs (i.e., doing it “on the cheap”), it's going to be a waste of time and money.
American racing is not keeping up with other racing countries or other sports in out-of-competition testing. On average 1 percent of samples collected are taken out of competition in the U.S. By comparison, 10 percent of samples in French racing, 11 percent in Hong Kong and 21 percent in Victoria, Australia, are taken out of competition and tested. Out-of-competition testing has become the standard for human sports. It allows testing labs to detect performance-enhancing substances that may have left the system by the day of competition and can serve as a deterrent to cheating.
It comes down to this: American racing either has a drug problem or it doesn't.
The work done by Singer and his McKinsey associates suggests the door is open for cheating because not enough resources are being used in many states (or are not being used in the most effective way), either because the money isn't there to spend, its regulators are not informed enough to select labs intelligently, or they simply don't care.
We can fool ourselves into believing we don't have a problem with enforcing the medication rules we have today. That's what Major League Baseball did during the steroids era and what track and field did during America's love affair with people like disgraced Olympian Marion Jones. Or we can get serious, take a sober look at this report, and say, “The current system is broken.”
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