Federal Oversight Threatens Thoroughbred Racing Self-Governance

(By Avalyn Hunter)

On July 19, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA, the parent company of Blood-Horse Publications) announced that 40 owners had pledged not to race any of their juveniles on Salix or other anti-bleeding medications in 2012. Among them were many of the most respected and recognizable names in the business: Ogden Mills Phipps, William S. Farish, George Strawbridge Jr., Adele Dilschneider, Arthur Hancock III, Barry Irwin, and Gretchen and Roy Jackson, to name just some. These are not ignorant people with no regard for the health and well-being of their horses; on the contrary, most have been in the Thoroughbred industry for decades and are deeply concerned about both their animals and the sport they love.

Their action is a step in the right direction. Lax medication rules and the widespread perception that cheating is taken lightly have created a public relations nightmare for Thoroughbred racing. While recent New York Times articles on injury rates and medication use have been rightly criticized for failure to separate Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse statistics and questionable methodology, the fact remains that they are only a very visible indicator of more widespread questions among those even casually acquainted with racing--the very people that racing must attract as new fans if the sport is to remain viable.

Racing must overcome not only the negative publicity it has generated for itself but its addiction to quick fixes and the belief that more is better when it comes to equine medicine. This is not to denigrate the work of equine veterinarians, who are a vital part of the industry and instrumental in treating the illnesses and injuries of equine athletes. But over the past several years, a slow tide of change has been sweeping through human medicine, as reviews of available evidence reveal time and again that many supposedly "preventive" health measures do more harm than good by having healthy people undergo extra tests and procedures for conditions that would probably never have caused them significant harm in the first place--or would have been better handled through lifestyle change. The question must be asked as to whether we are giving our horses the same over-treatment we give ourselves, along with medication as a quick fix for lack of basic fitness, chronic exposure to respiratory iirritants, nagging aches and pains, and other long-term issues that require time and patience (and sometimes some sleuth work) to correct.

Unfortunately, the racing community may be awakening to its danger too late for the best good of the industry, as the threat of federal oversight looms ever closer. While American racing has long needed a centralized authority to oversee racing rules, medication, and discipline of chronic violators, the sport would have been far better served by agreeing to develop such an authority in-house. There is little reason to doubt that Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) and Representative Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) have the welfare of horses and racing in mind in proposing legislation providing for federal oversight of medication rules, but it should not have come to the point where politicians rather than horsemen are making those decisions. For politicians serve more than one master, and the master that usually matters most is their perception of public opinion, particularly when election time rolls around. And once horse racing falls under the federal government's controlling hand, it will not easily get free again of what may be an increasingly meddlesome uncle.


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Its all very well to say Racing should govern itself but it has missed every opportunity to do this.  If those inside American racing are unable to see they are out of step and behind the rest of the world with their medication policies than perhaps major decisions should not be left to them? It seems the horseman will have to be dragged into behaving ethically.

25 Jul 2012 6:43 AM

Good grief, do we need more government in our lives.  They're like a plague that just can't leave us alone.  Go away. No more government.  They can't get our country right; do we need them messing around with horse racing.  Look what the BLM is doing to the wild horses.  They don't have a clue about them.

25 Jul 2012 7:07 AM

There are all degrees to which one can be "concerned about ...their animals..." , and there are various degrees of ignorance. Many/most of these untreated Salix race-day 2 yr.olds may not initially evidence/manifest the harm done to them by withholding this efficacious treatment, but the damage is cumulative. Choosing to INGNORE present day scientific knowledge is not the course taken by those who truly have "deep concern" for the health and well-being of the racehorse.      

25 Jul 2012 9:40 AM
Pedigree Ann

Sports is an area where federalism doesn't work. Would the PGA and its national network of tournaments exist if each state independently determined which clubs were legal and which weren't? Could the NASCAR circuit work if different states had different displacement limits? How about if every state had its own definitions of football penalties?

State racing commissions are the biggest obstacle to progress in creating a national racing organization. They are minor kingdoms where political appointees, often with little knowledge or understanding of the sport, can throw their weight around to gain political capital, with no concern about the health of the sport in question. (see New York)

I have another question along the same lines that Avalyn indicated. Bute was legalized some years before Lasix was. Bute, like every NSAID (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.), has side effects that vary from individual to individual. Don't know if most of you remember, but buffered aspirin (Bufferin a major brand) to prevent stomach upset had a big presence in pre-Tylenol days. Prolonged use of NSAIDs can also produce kidney changes leading to high-blood pressure. Could the increase in bleeding  from the lungs observed in recent times be a result of Bute overuse? This may be a simplistic idea, but using drugs to counteract the side-effects of other drugs is not uncommon in human medicine.

(A similar situation: I have serious mold allergy problems. Because of phlegm drainage while sleeping horizontally gave me acid reflux symptoms, I was put on omeprazole. However when I changed decongestants and started sleeping with my upper body elevated, the symptoms went away and I could toss the tummy pills.)

25 Jul 2012 10:09 AM

I am assuming Sceptre is pro lasix.  Dear oh dear.  The USA is way behind, not in front in the terms of racehorse management.  Its amazing that the rest of the world, which does NOT validate raceday medications are functioning just fine and with lower fatality rates than the USA.  It makes me want to cry when I read comments like sceptres.  You are killing off the USA racing industry, US sires are no longer the most desired in the world.  You breed clean you get racehorses like Frankel, So You Think, Danedream and the Japanese superstars, you allow drugs you get Ill Have Another, Union Rags and the list will go on and on, all injured and unable to complete even two campaigns.

25 Jul 2012 12:35 PM

Right on, Dooquila! The other thing the ROW (rest of the world)does is train at a facility like Fair Hills. No more "free" board at the track, which just promotes trainers to race horses that might have small issues, icreasing the chances of larger issues down the road. There is so much pressure to fill races under this structure, it is no wonder we have more fatalities. I have seen this first hand and know of which I speak.

25 Jul 2012 3:22 PM

i'd say this is a statement of how "stupid" the lasix issue is.  We need fed oversight because of lasix.  Good grief.

25 Jul 2012 3:55 PM
Needler in Virginia

Had racing not ignored the gorilla in the room, the situation would not be what it is now. This issue has been "on the agenda" for years and all we've gotten is wringing of hands, "we MUST do something" and 37 separate racing entities....none of which can agree with any other about anything except what year it is. The racing industry has no one else to blame but itself for this mess, and I'd bet the rules it will have to eventually accept will NOT be pleasant. The chances for repair have been many, the options considered were many, the steps that racing might have taken were obvious but difficult....and STILL nothing happened. It's time to attempt to work a deal with the fed so that racing can keep a little control over itself. That's all that's left to do.

25 Jul 2012 10:58 PM

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