Racing Needs Strict Sanctions to Stop the Cheaters

By Gail Radke
Executive board member, Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation

The articles, letters to the editor, and comments by fellow owners and breeders in the The Blood-Horse, show the deep concern we as breeders and owners are feeling. A six-part series called "A Painful Truth: A History of Drugs in Racing" was detailed and an eye-opener. Yet, it took an outside entity, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to really get folks upset and talking. The PETA exposure has brought troubling issues to light and open to public scrutiny.  

Any example of cheating and animal abuse no matter how infrequent is utterly distasteful, inexcusable and painful to every breeder and owner who represents the nucleus of the racehorse industry. There is significant need for a national organization to protect the horses, the breeders, the owners, jockeys, exercise riders and track owners who market and display our product.

In July 2013, the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation addressed its concerns in this area. We made a presentation to the Illinois Racing Board in support of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and published the same in the Illinois Racing News. This report included some state statistics that we used to condemn doping. Due to the latest incidents and negative notoriety we believe it prudent to once again state our opinions to the national racing community via the

Stated somewhat differently, the American public does not accept any cheating whether it is the Olympics, bicycle racing or any other sport. The public is repulsed if the cheating involves animals and will act if they perceive a pernicious attitude of abuse to animals. In these times, any drugging or abuse is absolutely intolerable. If our industry does not understand that zero tolerance is the minimum standard we will have no industry.

How can we get this absolute to those who make the rules? The product we the breeders and owners, provide, our beloved Thoroughbreds, are being used in some instances as chemical guinea pigs. Our horses are at times being subjected to combination drugs with possible long-term side effects. The only way an animal can tell you how it feels is if they are a little off in stride, have a little heat or swelling in a muscle or joint or are off their feed. If these symptoms are masked by introducing chemicals as therapeutic, we all know the possible consequences of this dangerous environment.  Breakdowns, career ending injuries and even more dangerous, the welfare of jockeys and exercise riders are put at risk.

Illegal doping is cheating, dangerous and is present from the elite to the $5,000 claimer. The only difference is elite horses get better aftercare while less expensive horses often are run into the ground. There is no excuse for performance enhancing or illegal drugs on race day. Zero tolerance with sanctions that secure zero tolerance is the only acceptable standard.

Mistakes are always possible, but repeat offenders are not making mistakes. That is their modus operandi. At first glance we are lead to believe that these are insignificant overages. But how insignificant, is in the eye of those who are cheating and winning. The owner who plays by the rules and comes in second or third may have another take on insignificant since they receive considerably less purse money.

A little overage is like being a little pregnant. Either you are or you are not.  Repeat offenses/overages should not be looked at as mistakes. A slap on the hand and small fine doesn't cut it anymore. Sanctions need to be tough, universal at all tracks and have enough teeth in them to deter future attempts. Other wise we will continue to have cheaters winning and stealing purse money from those who play by the rules.

In Illinois, between March and December 1, 2012, there were 40 rulings of drug violations. One trainer was caught 11 times, fined $7,000 and still collected over $200,000 from the very races in which he had a positive test. You don't have to be a brain trust to see a $7,000 fine is slap on the hand for cheating and still brings a significant investment return.

During that time frame there were 21 violations using Prednisone and four involving Dexamethasone. These are members of the glucocorticoid class of hormones/steroids. In 2013 there were 39 rulings of drug violations. Twenty-one were a combination of Phenylbutazone and Oxyphenbutazone. Others in the cheaters repertoire included Hydroxylidocaine, Dexamethisone, Etodolac and Gycopyrrolate to name a few. How many times should a trainer and vet get caught using illegal amounts of a drug or illegal exotic substances before they are ruled off?  Once, zero tolerance for drugs detrimental to the health and safety of the horse, jockey, and exercise rider. Cheaters and abusers of horses should be done with, finished, gone, take a hike, kick his/her cheating butt to the curb. Are they vital to the economic model of our business or are they a detriment? We do not need individuals in the racing industry who have become experts in a "smoke and mirrors" business model and stay out in front of regulators with continuing supplies of new drugs. We do not need a small group of cheaters determining public opinion of our sport.

The large majority of trainers play by the rules and care a great deal about their horses. The Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation fails to see what possible reason exists for allowing cheaters and abusers to continue to; tarnish the integrity of our sport; abuse horses; have a cavalier attitude about the welfare of the jockeys and exercise riders; hurt the tracks handle; turn the betting public away; steal purses from honest trainers, owners and breeders; devalue the winner; and jeopardize the safety of other horses in a race. We believe the first horse whose nose crosses the finish line is a winner. The cheater whose test crosses the line is the loser.

The integrity of our business is at stake. We need the sophisticated testing that a national organization can provide along with significant sanctions that have an impact. The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is a good start and it is needed now, not tomorrow.

To give you an update of what is happening in Illinois on this issue, the Illinois Racing Board utilizes UIC whose lab has recently received its ISC017 accreditation, meeting all international standards. According to Marc Laino, executive director, the IRB in conjunction with UIC is continuing in the process leading to RMTC accreditation.

Breeders and owners provide the product, support the co-dependent industries and pay the bills. We need to step up to the plate, demand better care of our investments if necessary and if need be, have more input into the life and care of our Thoroughbreds. You can really see what is going on at your track by checking the rulings and violations at Perhaps if we put our horses at tracks that did not countenance cheating or if we fired trainers who were caught, this problem would stop. Everybody wants to win, but as a breeder or an owner, do we want to cheat to win? People on Wall Street try it and go to jail. People who write hot checks go to jail. Is there some kind of honor saying, "My trainer and vet dosed my horse and I won." Absolutely not. Horse racing is an honorable sport and it deserves to continue and grow in a healthy environment without the negative impact of a few cheaters. We encourage all of racing to embrace a uniform national medication reform with strict sanctions.

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