S  P  E  C  I  A  L    R  E  P  O  R  T

HORSE RACING  —  THE CHEMICAL HORSE

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Historical Aspects

Part 3: The Inception of Drug Testing

Part 4: Drugs and Their Actions

Part 5: Policies and Tactics

Part 6: Class 3 Drugs — Performance Enhancing or Not?

Part 7: Class 4 Drugs — Harmless Therapeutics?

Part 8: The Unclassifieds

Part 9: The Call for Reform

Part 10: Who Rules?

Written and Researched
by JANE ALLIN

April 2011

PHOTOS

1st right, BIG BROWN and trainer RICK DUTROW / SI.

2nd left, cropped image of JAMIE NESS /  tampabay.com.

3rd right, STEVE ASMUSSEN with TAPITURE. AP / USAToday.com.

4th center, PINE ISLAND. David C. Burton/The Louisville Courier-Journal.

5th center, one of a rash of horses killed / jockeys injured Fairmount Park. Bill Coatney / StlToday.com.

Part 9: The Call for Reform

"These foreign investors are not confident that horses purchased in America will be able to compete in international venues. With six or more generations of heavily medicated American horses racing on drugs, we are now often being referred to as breeders of the 'chemical horse'. In fact, one of the most prominent owners in Europe recently said, 'We use the United Sates as a dumping ground for our weaklings.' " [1]

—  ARTHUR AND STACI HANCOCK, ROY AND GRETCHEN JACKSON
and GEORGE STRAWBRIDGE  —

IN HORSE RACING, as with other sports, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is frowned upon since it undermines the principal philosophy of the game as well as devaluing and debasing the rewards of competition.

In the case of horse racing, it is not only irrefutably "cheating", but also animal abuse.

Moreover, when any extraordinary incident is achieved in competitive sport it engenders as much suspicion as it does a sense of awe thereby compromising the very nature of its function as entertainment.

In North American horse racing, these achievements are indeed extraordinary; it is staggering to think how these over-medicated and unsound youngsters manage to compete as fiercely as they do.

In any sport, the romance that seemingly goes with it, is to churn out enhanced performances. But at what cost?

If only to emphasize speed over endurance through the use of questionable and dangerous drugs, coupled with unconstrained breeding programs, how can this bring anything but disgrace to the horse racing industry? To the rest of the racing world, the lax regulation of drug use in North America is inexcusable, and profoundly challenging the survival of bloodstock sales in this country.

Certainly there is ample evidence that the proliferation of drug use in North America, whether performance enhancing or therapeutic, has cast an ugly shadow upon a commercial business that is estimated to contribute nearly $40 billion annually to the Gross Domestic Product of the United States economy as well as providing approximately 1.43 million full-time jobs. [2]

"With attendance and wagering down all over the country, this brings with it not only a significant loss in revenue, but also the unmistakable realization that the public is cognizant of the situation, and will no longer tolerate it. It is a sad state of affairs when "what comes off a veterinarian’s truck and goes into a horse is often perceived to be as important to the performance of a horse as its talent". [3]


The insidious use of these harmful and often toxic drugs has only added to the weakness of the modern NA Thoroughbred rather than improving it in any significant way.

The implementation of a unified drug policy has been envisioned for many years, not only to achieve consistency and fairness in North America but also to move toward integrated global guidelines. Drug regulation in other parts of the world is much more stringent and serves to provide a basis for improving the integrity of the sport in North America.

Nonetheless what is of critical importance, regardless of the strategy, is to change the profit making mindset to one that places the safety and welfare of the horse as its highest priority. Until the industry faces the medication issues in earnest, its efforts to address equine safety will be altogether misguided.

The subject of unification and control of drug policies in North America has been thrashed about for decades without resolve or agreement from racing authorities and those within the industry.

As far back as the early 1990’s research studies undertaken and committees formed to address the situation have been a focal point for the push towards reform within the industry in pursuit of establishing a benchmark for the provision of equine health and welfare. Yet with all good intentions considered, the decisive issues that beleaguer the industry have not changed.

Modern North American Thoroughbreds continue to spiral downwards in terms of soundness and the integrity of the sport remains in jeopardy.

"We can draw a line on a graph clearly indicating the decline in average number of starts per horse per year, and trace it directly back to the introduction of race-day use of Bute and Lasix. The sharp decline in average annual starts that began in the 1970s continues today, at an ever more precipitous rate. Today’s horses race an average of just 6.11 times per year, compared with 11.31 times in 1960, 10.22 in 1970, and 9.21 in 1980." [4]


Despite the adoption of Model Pari-Mutuel Rules, developed by the RMTC (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) which are drafted and approved by the RCI (Association of Racing Commissioners International) on an annual basis, the United States maintains the most permissive medication policies for Thoroughbred racehorses from a global perspective.

Many agree that the continued and aggressive use of legal drugs is unequivocally accountable for the world’s highest mortality rates where short-term fixes with superfluous administration of therapeutic drugs, have produced considerable vulnerability in the North American racehorse.

"A Jockey Club study released last March determined that racehorses died at the rate of 2.04 per 1,000 starts in the United States and Canada, a rate twice as deadly as in any other country. The Jockey Club has pointed to multiple studies that show permissive drug rules are part of the cause of the high mortality rates. It has gotten the Association of Racing Commissioners International, or R.C.I., to lower the allowable level of phenylbutazone, which can be used to mask injuries to horses," commented Mark Simons in the Thoroughbred Times." [5]


Much of the problem can be attributed to the fragmentation of regulatory bodies in the United States where 38 racing jurisdictions in 38 different states exist, each with their own set of rules and drug policies.

The intention of the creation of the RMTC in 2002 was to address this very issue but to this day no standardized drug testing or legal rulings are in place on a national level. Since the racing agencies of each state are governed by that state’s legislature, they are empowered by their own rules and at their own discretion disconnectedly from other jurisdictions within the US.

Despite the fact that the industry has developed "model rules" with the intention of creating universal regulations governing the use of drugs, there is no manner of enforcement if a state decides not to abide by the recommended measures. Countless states have not adopted these rules and have manipulated them to complement their perception of how they intend to make use of these medications to their best advantage, not necessarily in the best interest of the horse.

What this amounts to is an assemblage of discrete "empires" that exercise sweeping control of those individuals within its alliance frequently creating challenges both within and between individual states.

Different rules and different tolerance levels apply at different racetracks along with considerable discrepancies in suspension time for the same medication violation. More often than not many of the rulings are viewed as unconstitutional and much time and effort can be expended on disputes and appeals.

To this end the penalties imposed by different states are customarily incongruous. This in itself generates much controversy as some states will uphold a trainer’s suspension that has been imposed in another state while others will permit trainers to race regardless if they have been suspended under the legislation of another state agency. [6]

As a result there is little incentive to adhere to drug guidelines. Moreover, there is no coherent set of rules as to who is liable – some states will penalize the trainers while others the veterinarian. [7]

As far as penalties go, a positive drug test typically brings with it inconsequential fines and suspensions that can be analogous to a "slap on the wrist" – laughable in comparison to those imposed by other global racing organizations such as the Federation Equestre International [The International Federation for Equestrian Sports] (FEI) which has a zero-tolerance policy through pre- and post-race testing and where no appeals have yet to be won. [8]

Contrast this to trainers in the US such as the incorrigible Richard Dutrow Jr., Jamie Ness (pictured left) or Bob Baffert for example who have averaged a medication violation every 343, 217, and 465 starts respectively. [9].

"In fact of the top 20 trainers by purses won (2010), only two – Christophe Clement and Graham Motion – have never been cited for a medication violation". [10]


Table 1 below tells the tale.

Table 1. Repeat Offenders
Frequency of drug violations for horses of the top-earning trainers
in the United States (2010)
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/sports/04racing.html

TRAINER STARTS AS OF
OCT 26, 2010
STARTS PER
MEDICATION
VIOLATION
Jamie Ness4,349217
Richard Dutrow Jr.6,174343
Bob Baffert9,297465
John Sadler10,983478
W. Bret Calhoun7,882525
Kiaran McLaughlin4,262710
Doug O’Neill8,872807
Michael Maker2,650883
Jerry Hollendorfer24,452978
Steve Asmussen26,619986
Dale Romans8,6281,438
Thomas Amoss9,7091,618
Anthony Dutrow5,9351,978
Mark Casse8,2142,054
Todd Pletcher12,0632,413
William Mott19,5512,444
Nick Zito13,3944,465
Roger Attfield9,1234,562
Christophe Clement5,9730
Graham Motion 7,6590

Clearly the frequency of these violations together with the fact these individuals continue to train while suspended, regardless of the offense, demonstrates how ludicrous the North American system of penalty enforcement and severity is. Time and time again these trainers circumvent the rules and are rewarded for their penchant to cheat with punishments that all too often are in name only; their stables remain open and their horses are permitted to race, typically under the name of a trustworthy assistant.

In 2006, for example, when Asmussen (pictured right with Tapiture) was suspended by Louisiana authorities when a filly he trained tested 750 times over the legal limit for the local anesthetic mepivacaine, which can deaden pain in a horse’s legs, he turned his horses over to Scott Blasi, his longtime assistant.

Blasi won 198 races in 2006 as the Asmussen stable finished the year with more than $14 million in earnings. [11]

Moreover, the frequency of violations seems not to factor into the equation either.

"And it takes a near-miracle for a trainer to be permanently barred. Rick Dutrow, trainer of the 2008 Derby winner Big Brown (who raced on then-permitted steroids before his inexplicable non-performance in that year’s Belmont Stakes) has accumulated more than 60 violations in his career.

Yet it was only earlier this year that the Kentucky Racing Commission revoked his license, and he continues to train while that decision is on appeal and while he awaits a hearing in New York, the result of which will also almost certainly be appealed." [12]


Obviously the punishment does not fit the crime.

While the North American horse racing industry is making some progress in its struggle to rid itself of a number of illegal drugs, it remains to have little control of the rampant use of legal medications particularly those, which in the minds of many, are perfectly harmless – the so-called therapeutics – Lasix, Bute and corticosteroids for example.

It is however these very drugs that are contributing to the escalating rise in injury rates.

Many of these injuries are a result of pre-existing conditions that have occurred from repetitive overuse during training and racing. With repeated use and abuse of these drugs, these trainers and owners force these horses to race to exhaustion on injured or fractured limbs never giving time to heal the underlying damage.

Unfortunately the punishment for this carnage is not harsh enough or significant enough to discourage people from using these debilitating measures in pursuit of any means, above-board or not, to gain an edge.

As Dan Metzger, The TOBA (Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association) puts it "when you get a slap on the wrist, for a lot of people it’s just the cost of doing business." [13]

While the trainers bear the brunt of the liability associated with any positive indication of drugs, where do the attending veterinarians and owners feature in this scenario?

In the big scheme of things aren’t these individuals equally accountable? Certainly they should be held responsible as they are endemic to the whole.

"Many people believe the real culprits are veterinarians, the ones actually dispensing the drugs. As things now stand, there is very little accountability in regard to vets. Every time a horse is entered, a trainer should be required to put down the name of the veterinarian that is treating the horse. If some vet's name keeps popping up in connection with horse after horse that records a stunning form reversal then track security will know it had better start asking some questions and putting some pressure on that vet." [14]


Herein lies the corruption that feeds the moral crisis of the horse racing industry in North America - it is a money proposition. These veterinarians are highly educated individuals yet continue to chronically administer these drugs to allow these horses to compete at all costs, most notably their lives.

Why? They make small fortunes marketing and selling these medications and it seems nothing stops them from treating these horses as mere commodities.

"The Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg told a Congressional subcommittee last June that training horses had become 'chemical warfare.'   Arthur Hancock, a fourth-generation breeder and owner, said that after routinely receiving medication bills for more than $1,000 per horse, he told his vet to give his horses drugs only when they were sick.

'You want to win races, don’t you, Arthur?' Hancock said the vet replied.

". . . . The monthly bills for routine care for some horses surpass $1,000." [15]


And it is by no means only the trainers and veterinarians at the core of this debacle. Thoroughbred owners are also a pivotal element in this deadly game of "Chemical Warfare".

Horses are routinely administered medications whether called for or not. What’s more, there is no transparency as many are loathe to disclosing their medication records.

An article written by Joe Drape prior to the running of the 2009 Kentucky Derby says it all.

"Of the 20 owners or their trainers who as of Monday intended to run a horse in the Derby, only three shared their veterinary records with The New York Times.

"The 17 owners unwilling to show the records offered a variety of reasons for their refusal. Some talked about competitive pressures, and one trainer cited his horse’s privacy.

"David Lanzman, co-owner of the Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, referred the inquiry to his trainer, Jeff Mullins.

"I'm a mortgage banker," Lanzman said. "I don’t know what goes on back there.'

"Mullins declined to provide the records.

"The owners’ responses make it impossible to tell what practices even racing’s most prominent and accomplished people follow when using chemistry to improve their horses’ performance." [16]


It is hardly difficult to imagine why many of these records remain locked and sealed without public scrutiny. Basically we would be privy to testimony that would unveil the virtual "walking apothecaries" these horses have become.

It is not the illegal drugs such as cobra venom (yes, snake venom), the opiates, EPO (erythropoietin), anabolic steroids or stimulants, for example, that are at stake here, but rather the persistent use of painkillers such as the NSAIDs (e.g. Bute) and corticosteroids as well as Lasix and other adjunct anti-bleeding medicines.

More to the point, this begs the question as to whether these medications should even be allowed during training. Breakdowns occur equally as frequently during training exercises as on race day.

Sadly, these seldom are reported and belie the actual carnage that occurs on the track. These drugs should only be used for what they are intended – as therapies to heal injuries not as crutches that will see these vulnerable creatures to the finish line without heed to their welfare – betrayed of their loyalty, abused and discarded.

Aside from the obvious and intentional manipulation of the race horse, this also brings us to the legal angle of the game – the bettor and the integrity of the industry itself. Drug enhancement is not only a detriment to the horses but is also problematic since it has the potential to significantly skew racing statistics.

Anyone placing bets based on odds as well as the historical performance of a horse is risking more than the obvious.

What’s missing in the equation is the uncertainty of drug use – were previous outstanding races a result of performance-enhancing drugs or those that mask pain? Do they run on the same drugs at each and every race? How long ago did they receive that anabolic steroid fix?

In particular, many of the therapeutics can be administered in such a way as to modify a horse’s performance so that consistency of form is compromised. This can introduce unpredictability in race-to-race performance so the bettor is at a disadvantage for each and every bet that is placed.

Unlike most other sports, the use of drugs in horse racing is acutely deleterious since the fans money is at stake.

"Brian Stewart, head of veterinary regulation for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, said that while it was impossible to scientifically link drugs to injuries, 'we believe medication adds a risk factor, not only to injury, but to inconsistent racing performance." [17]


There is currently no tangible means of eliminating this ambiguity; as it exists today the horse racing industry can be likened to a charade for animal cruelty and blatant fraudulence in terms of the betting public.

Without transparency in drug records the bettors are being defrauded. Fraud is a crime punishable by law.

"We talk to our bettors, (drug cheating) is a big issue," Willmot, who runs the country's largest racing operation, said yesterday in an interview. "We've seen double-digit declines in (wagering) the past 18 months and it's not just because people wanted to stop betting.

"Something happened to make them stop, especially the big bettors. They are voting with their wallets.

"The racetracks and the regulators are doing their very best to deal with it. But if the horsemen don't become totally vigilant and do everything they can to minimize this, they might not have an industry. It is that threatening.

"We can't have any tolerance for cheats. It has to be our duty to do everything we can to ensure our racing is honest and free of fraud." [18]


Apart from these issues, a fundamental component of the medication dilemma is the testing itself. Unlike other countries such as Europe, England and Canada for example where testing is centralized, the US has a total of 18 test labs each in different states where the tracks are situated. Moreover, of these, only four are accredited.

Without accreditation the scope of standardization is greatly compromised.

Adding to this quandary is the glaring issue of all but non-existent pre-race testing.

It is widely known that many performance-enhancing drugs given in the right dosage can only be detected before a race and hence promote exploitation by those endeavoring to do so.

Clearly, the unpredictable combination of North America’s fragmented regulatory bodies, indiscriminate penalties for drug violations and deceitful racing trainers and others involved in the industry create a disquieting venue for adequate drug regulation.

The long history of the racing industry’s tendency to sweep the drug issues under the rug is well established on a national as well as global level. If the industry is to survive here in the US the need for reform is imminent.