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
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
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
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
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 www.thoroughbredrulings.com.
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.