‘Enough Is Enough’: Gural Urges Tracks To Step Up Drug Enforcement

by | 11.14.2015 | 10:56am
Jeff Gural speaks at the Stanley Bergstein Award dinner.

Pointing to an apparent lack of will and dwindling budgets from state racing commissions, harness track owner Jeff Gural called on his peers on the Thoroughbred side of American horse racing to take the initiative to combat the use of illicit drugs as he has done.

Gural, who rebuilt the Meadowlands two years ago, is a member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance, the grassroots organization of mostly Thoroughbred interests who have pushed for a federal bill that would put the United States Anti-Doping Agency in charge of policing drugs in U.S. racing. Gural said he thinks USADA would be effective, but the simplest solution would be vigilant enforcement from the tracks themselves. He repeatedly referred to drugs in racing as a moral issue.

“We have a real dilemma,” he said “The only solution in my mind is real simple, which is for the track owners to step up to the plate and say ‘Enough is enough, we have a moral obligation to our customers and to these animals that when they step foot on our racetracks that they are racing without any illegal medication.' It's as simple as that. When I took over the Meadowlands, we invested $120-million. The facility is brand new, it's gorgeous, it's cool, it's state of the art. So if there is a future for racing, this is the racetrack of the future. The first thing I said to myself is that I didn't spend $120-million to create a place for dishonest people to make a living. Why would you?”

Gural hired a former state trooper to head up an in-house integrity program, including drug testing, that centers on a racetrack's private property powers. Based on those efforts, he has excluded numerous “drug trainers” from participating at the Meadowlands and his two other tracks. He said unannounced out-of-competition testing is the key, and he called on the operators of Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and Saratoga to make a similar game-changing impact in Thoroughbred racing.

“I haven't solved the entire problem but I can tell you that by and large, there are no known drug trainers at the three tracks I own,” Gural said. “There may be people using drugs that we don't know about, but we keep trying, we keep testing, we send the samples, we've tried using hair samples, we've done surveillance and I guarantee if the five track owners got together and hired a couple of retired FBI guys and a couple of DEA guys and found a reliable lab, we would not be talking about this anymore. It would be over. Without out of competition testing, you are not testing at all. I guarantee you that anyone in the drug testing of humans would tell you that, without showing up unannounced and asking someone to pee in a cup, or in our case showing up unannounced and asking the trainer to have his veterinarian to draw blood and give it to us and send it off.

“If the track owners don't do something about it, the fact of the matter is that they simply don't care. They can say what they want. I lose $3-million a year. If I can afford to spend $150,000 a year to try to keep the drug guys out, I would think Keeneland does very well. NYRA, Churchill, and Mr. Stronach–he loves horses, he knows what I am talking about–I am sure that these people can afford to do it and that would be it. We are done, we will worry about Lasix the next time. There is no way that anyone should tolerate that these horses are being given illegal medication knowingly and that we are going to rely on the various states that are all struggling budget wise to spend the money. To give you an idea, New York bought the equipment to test for cobalt but they don't do it, because the lab doesn't get enough from New York to cover the costs for testing for cobalt. In New Jersey, they don't test for cobalt. That's a drug we know is performance enhancing.”

In the heart of America's Thoroughbred industry, Gural was part of an event with a heavy influence from harness racing. The late Bergstein was a major Standardbred figure for decades as a writer, broadcaster and track executive, and the award in his honor was presented to Chris Wittstruck, a harness racing columnist and owner. Wittstruck's winning story also focused on drug enforcement, but his call was for more reliance on existing laws as a deterrent.

Gural said “I am really glad that Barry has chosen to honor Stan Bergstein with this award. Stan was a good friend of mine and someone who really fought hard on the integrity issue. It's interesting that someone in the Thoroughbred game would honor him. He is certainly someone who should be honored. I commend Barry and thank him for inviting me and I hope the message gets through to these track owners that this is absolutely a moral issue. The same thing happened in football. When the pressure mounted, they decided they would randomly test the players. Now they don't use drugs, and the same thing in baseball. The owners stepped up. Not the federal government. Not the states. The owners stepped up and the same thing is true in racing. The owners have got to step up and clean up the sport.”

  • Guest

    How does that work with horses that are legitimately prescribed medications for something minor, and they can remain in training? What meds does Out of Competition Testing test for?

    • Chancey Gardner

      the ones that enhance performance or mask pain, of course.

      • bhood

        There are performance enhancing drugs that are legal if the horse is not in competition. If cleared by raced day no harm no foul. I agree with the OP, what do you do if a horse test positive for one of those but is in a layoff and no plans to race soon?

        • Guest

          Right, and if the horse is not competing, what performance is being enhanced?????

          • Figless

            Any horses tested would be in training, and eligible to compete in that particular meet. Probably horses nominated for Stakes races during the meet, for instance. If a horse is on a layoff with no plans to compete it wouldn’t be stalled at the track. They would not be testing “out of competition” horses, there would be no point.

            They would be looking not for therapeutic meds but rather for substance that have no business being in a racehorse anytime, one example would be snake venom, cobalt another. Blood doping, the same things they test for in Olympic human athletes

          • Chancey Gardner

            bingo

          • Guest

            I agree that substances with no known use in horses should not be present.

          • Matthew Hood

            So really when you get down to it, you can really only look for stuff that is banned outright all together. You mention snake venom. Wouldn’t that show up on a race day test? Why would someone give that on an out of competition horse, but not when the horse is racing? Same thing for cobalt. Those types of substances have to be given when the horse is racing to be effective.

            Testing humans and horses are two very different things. Positives in humans are for steroids, HGH, EPO, etc. Those should never be in a human and can carry over to competition time. Now will they ever find something in a horse that shouldn’t be? Sure, but you get the feeling it will only be .1% of the time and we know how this game goes. Everybody will say money is tight enough and with such little findings is it all worth it. Not saying I’m against it, just seems hard to imagine how effective it will be.

          • Guest

            Good post. Spoke with my vet about it, and he just laughed. One of the things the vets are happy about is now they can get the trainers to give the horses what they need – more time between races – because of the tightening of medication rules. But really, to take away the ability to treat the horse in a humane and ethical manner, while being compliant with the rules, is silly.

          • Yes but the [very good] chance of finding that small % [but not THAT small!]in very high profile stables is too scary to contemplate.

          • Chancey Gardner

            Then what is the point of giving it? One would still be guilty. “I wasn’t gonna run him” wouldn’t fly.

          • Guest

            A medication prescribed by a vet to treat a physical illness or disease. My friend’s horse was on clenbuterol because it had a tumor on the larynx which was found during a post race scope. That was actually a very layman’s explanation for the problem, I do not remember the complex medical terminilogy. Horses get sick, they have minor injuries, and can be prescribed medication by a vet for a legitimate reason, but not have to leave the track. They just dial back the training until the horse is cleared by the vet to resume.

          • Chancey Gardner

            You could have an opt-out program in an instance where a positive might happen, and then a certain amount of time ( 3 months? 6? ) has to transpire before the horse is eligible to race again. To quote a famous man, there are no problems here, only solutions.

          • Figless

            Terrific discussion above, but mostly focused on the actual drugs given/etc, when another main component is enforcement.

            Gural banned these folks from entering horses. The threat of banishment, coupled with increased testing, would result in a much cleaner game. Right now plenty of positive tests occur on the race day tests, but the punishment is insignificant.

            But the key is ALL of the major jurisdictions need to agree on enforcement, because if one goes it alone, like Gural, their track will be punished with fewer entries when the cheaters just pick up and move to the other tracks.

            As Gural states, all the major racetracks can clean this up on their own by agreeing to rigorous out of competition testing and harsh penalties.

          • Just as soon as they bite the bullet of “negative publicity” and short fields. Don’t hold your breath.

          • Hard cases make for bad law. If they cannot cope then they shouldn’t be running.

      • Guest

        Specifically….please cite the state and rule. Not trying to be adversarial, but I am an amateur athlete and also farm, and have a list of chronic conditions (oh yeah I’m old) for which I occasionally medicate. I would be pissed (pun intended) if testers showed up at my door and demanded I pee in a cup because I occasionally participate in regulated competitions (med free, of course).

        • Chancey Gardner

          There are different classifications for the meds – go do some homework and find out, because no one is going to list them all, here. However, if you were actually a licensed trainer it would behoove you to know what is acceptable and what is not, so … what a silly question.

          • CG, I think Guest’s personal view gets to the heart of the problem for American racing: as long as virtually every trainer, and certainly every vet, is operating with the “we really do need to take care of this [routine situation] medically” outlook it is going to be hard to see the wood for the trees. I’m still convinced that Lasix’s prime attraction is as a distraction [see what I did there!?].

          • Chancey Gardner

            I would agree with you, BO, about the Lasix usage and the distraction from a bigger problem. Look, the try to obfuscate about out of competition testing by whining about “which meds are not acceptable” between races. It’s NOT complicated: if it is illegal and PED, you are busted, and I should think, thrown out of the sport forever. As I mentioned before and Gural makes the case, Lance Armstrong was able to get away with his cheating for a long time because he knew when the test were happening. Don’t you think the “winning” trainers are smart enough to follow that blueprint to wealth? 10 million dollars is sure a lot of money amassed training horses.

          • And the reason he knew when the tests were coming is because that made sense to those who had the most to lose. At some stage that reality could impact upon the high ideals being trumpeted by Meadowlands.

          • Chancey Gardner

            All it would take is one of the big dominoes to fall.

          • Really?

            Actually not a silly question Chancey. They have begun out of competition testing in some jurisdictions. What they test for is a huge question mark. Clenbuterol mentioned above is a great exampe. Performance enhancing even when the horse tests clean on race day because it has anabolic effects. It is also used for legitimate purposes, for example to help clear out a horse that has recently bled. This is an example of something that has to be clarified. Steroids are also still legal for therapeutic purposes but they must test under a legal level on race day especially since some are naturally found in the body. What if you get a high testosterone outside of race day?. How will that be handled? Lots of questions, legitimate ones.

          • Chancey Gardner

            But nothing that couldn’t be considered. debated and decided and then made into a rule.

    • Figless

      They test for everything but what you are looking to catch here at the obvious performance enhancers with zero therapeutic value.

      And the key is him permanently banning those that are caught. The combination of the threat of being caught and the severe punishment will clean it up immediately. The cheaters will move somewhere else. I would take it a step further and prosecute for race fixing, but that is a tough case to make.

      • Guest

        I understand, but what rule specifically states that Medications X, Y and Z are prohibited from ever being administered to a horse in training? It is my understanding that the rules only address what is allowed in a horse’s system when it races. But I admit to having limited knowledge.

        • bhood

          You are correct. Being clean by race day is all that matters. The only thing they could catch would be stuff that’s banned outright all together and should never be in a horse. Take Clenbuterol. Legal to use for a horse on a layoff and no plans to race soon. But if caught on race day, it’s a very serious penalty. So how would you handle out of competition positive for something like that?

          • Guest

            Agree – I use it on a horse that has a mild case of reactive airway which flares up in the winter when they have to be in the barn more. I don’t compete in the winter, so I am not breaking any rules, but I have a legitimate reason to use the medication as I don’t want the disease to progress.

          • Amazing how many athletes improve when they discover that they’ve got asthma.

          • Chancey Gardner

            see above

  • Chancey Gardner

    “…I guarantee you that anyone in the drug testing of humans would tell you that, without showing up unannounced and asking someone to pee in a cup, or in our case showing up unannounced and asking the trainer to have his veterinarian to draw blood and give it to us and send it off…”
    And that, my friends is how Lance Armstrong duped the world. How difficult do you think it is to do the same with a horse, especially when you ship one back to its home base for inexplicable reasons. Hurray for Lance…

  • Wild Oats

    I totally agree…without unannounced random testing the industry will never get a handle on the drug problem.

  • MsMarianne

    The reason I gave up my trainers license years ago is because I was young and idealistic. I wanted my horses to win on nutrition and conditioning. The sad fact is the winning trainers and their owners were one step ahead of the testing labs.

    • Well try again – your problem will be losing horses to claim, so better to train off track and then you’ll have a chance. If you were in Britain you would be constantly up against horses carrying many pounds less than they should – I doubt any of the people you are afraid of have a stone [or 5 or 6 lengths] in hand. “Faint heart never ****ed a pig”.

  • Figless

    I agree in principal with everything Gural says and hope he gets involved with new NYRA IF they ever re-privatize, either operating if they open the bidding or on the Board. However his statement “Now (football) they don’t use drugs, and the same thing in baseball.” is a joke.

  • larry

    Inquiries are the real crime against the betting public, owner appeals are a disgrace, two outcomes from one race? Cmon get your head out of your asses. Shame on the so called leaders in this game. Two often these inquiries are being used for tote manipulation more than anything else to perpetuate the growth of the gimmick wagers

    • John G. Veitch

      Back in the 1980’s the NYRA Stewards disqualified the wrong horse (Allumeuse), NYRA under Hayward withholds an extra 1%, some people questioned keeping Bayern up as the winner in the 2014 Classic. In Feb. 2014 a questionable stewards DQ, Etc. You have a point, the betting public many times see’s questionable results or actions by the tracks that would bother them.
      Not to say that medication and cheating is an issue that needs addressing, but there are many issues facing the sport. You raise one of them too…

      • Figless

        There are bad calls by referees in every sport, no different.

        • And we never hear of anyone who backed the horse that benefited!

      • larry

        Thanks John, Stewards have thankless job. l think you would agree its the process that needs to be changed.

  • Northern Dancer

    This issue has been talked about for years, committees were formed, and have discussed it for years. What has changed? Not much. We still have the top Trainers in this country (most with multiple drug violations), winning all the stake races. Look at 2015 Breeders Cup – most if not all of the Trainers have multiple drug violations on their records, and the drugs are mostly heavy duty pain alleviating medication. How can anybody possibly win against them?
    It’s not only the drugs. It’s what happens when they get caught or shall I say what DOESN’T happen when they get caught. They just hire attorneys, appeal, out money the commissions, and a settlement is reached. It amounts to a slap on the wrist, there is no deterrence whatsoever. They just keep doing it, win all the money, and the cycle continues.
    Then there are the Owners. All their Owners probably know what’s going on, but they send all their horses to these Trainers.
    Then there are the racetrack owners. I have witnessed these tracks giving tons of stalls to these Trainers, rolling out the red carpet for them, and treating them like royalty.The honest, play by the rule, oats and water Trainers are overlooked, and often denied access to racetrack facilities which puts them at a huge disadvantage.
    This is an entire organized system. For lack of a better term I call it an organized drug den. This is precisely why my owners, and myself left the business.
    It’s like running against a bunch of Lance Armstrong’s. We didn’t mind losing or not getting a shot at the big races, but when the cheaters prosper, and you are filling races for them while running honestly – it’s time to go.
    The entire system of horse racing needs an overhaul. The only solution I can see is having a neutral, and independent agency such as the USADA take control.

    • Chancey Gardner

      EVERYONE here should read this man’s post, because it is the big, fat elephant sitting in your living room that you don’t want to address. You can put lipstick on a pig for only so long…

    • Disqualify the owners along with the trainers and they’ll police it for you:no more “who’d ‘a’ thunk it” when their trainer got his collar felt.

  • nancy

    Really?
    And he was not interested when offered samples of Lou Pen and Jennifer Sabot’s prerace drugs to test? may have caught more “trainers” utilizing the drug vs judt banning from his racetrack.

  • nancy

    Pena

  • Jack H

    He has no leg to stand on. Someone should ask him how he banned Joe Bongiornio for drugs yet allows every single horse that was trained and or owned by him to now race at his track under Richard Johnson as trainer. He has not moral compass.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram