Commentary: From Golden Era of Racing to Golden Era of Medication

by | 06.13.2014 | 1:55pm

The following commentary was submitted by the Water Hay Oats Alliance, which supports federal legislation to regulate medication in horse racing.

Thoroughbred racing is rife with disagreements, but everyone agrees that another Triple Crown winner would bring huge benefits to our sport. Another racing superstar is just what our industry and our fans are longing for, and yet we haven't had a Triple Crown winner in 36 years. This is no coincidence.

The last three Triple Crown wins by Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed all occurred in the 1970s, generally regarded as the industry's last “golden era.” It was also in the 1970s that a handful of states authorized the use of Bute, and the idea of “therapeutic” medication was accepted in our sport. Soon followed by Lasix, the list has continued to grow. Pandora's Box was opened and a drug culture was born.  Today, the Uniform Medication Rules include “26” approved substances.

In 1950 our horses averaged 45 lifetime starts.  In 1970, 20 years later, they averaged 34; in 1990, 21.7 and today our racehorses average only 12.48.  In the past, they didn't need four or five weeks between races and they didn't “bounce.” They often ran every week, or within days, without the risk of a breakdown and without the debilitating effects of medication. Paralleling the decrease in the number of lifetime starts per horse was the dramatic increase in the number of drugs available and their use and acceptance.

It is no wonder we haven't had a Triple Crown winner in the past three decades. Our horses can no longer stand the rigors of the quest. By the time they are 2-year-olds, most of them already depend on drugs such as furosemide and corticosteroids that suppress bone development and stress their joints and crucial ligaments.

Unless these trends are reversed, we may never have another Triple Crown winner.  The next champion should win the crown running on water, hay, oats, and nothing else.  It is not the fresh horses who are denying us a Triple Crown winner, it is the cocktail of drugs given on race day.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R. 2012/S.973) will bring about the end of race day medication, clean up our image, restore public confidence, and most importantly, ensure that everyone does the right thing by the horse.  Let's get it passed…..the sooner the better.

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