Imagine using something in your profession for 25 years because you believe it to be beneficial, and then having regulators take it away from you. That, said Dr. Don Catlin, is how some Thoroughbred trainers must feel about the industry’s push to ban the usage of most anabolic steroids.

Catlin, one of the world’s foremost experts in the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports, founded the Anti-Doping Research Institute and for the past couple of years has headed the privately funded Equine Drug Research Institute.

The Thoroughbred industry, headed by Keeneland, raised $3 million to fund work done by Catlin, who was among the speakers March 17 during the second Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit. The 69-year-old scientist said the industry is not yet ready to implement the steroids ban, and urged it to proceed slowly in order to get things right. He also stated he believes the powers that be are making a mistake by not banning all anabolic steroids.

Speaking later in the week from his home in California, Catlin, who formerly headed the Olympic testing lab and has developed tests that have caught cheaters, discussed his work. But in doing so, he also felt compelled to mention how “political” he has found the Thoroughbred industry to be.

Everyone who works with the Thoroughbred industry finds that out; usually sooner rather than later.

“We’re approaching the midway part of year three and trying to decide if we should go forward,” Catlin said. “Along the way, what I thought would be just science issues I have learned is just part of it. There is an overlay of political issues that are really the dominating theme.”

Catlin spoke of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, state racing commissions, and horsemen’s groups as among those with varied and vested interests in the sport. It is hard, he said, for some to give up something they’ve had for so long.

“Personally, I think there is only one way to go, and that is a total ban. But I am sympathetic that the industry has been using steroids for 25 years, and you don’t turn that off overnight. I don’t like the idea of regulating the four steroids, but it is far better than doing nothing.”

The suggestion by many that steroids have therapeutic uses does not sway him, Catlin said. “The industry must get a handle on it, and they are working hard to fix it. That being said, I would have started without any exceptions. I don’t see anything in the literature (suggesting therapeutic uses), but I am cognizant that I am just learning about this industry.”

Many once thought Olympic sports to be the purest form of athleticism. Because of the efforts of Catlin and his associates, we now know such high-profile Olympic gold medalists as Ben Johnson and Justin Gatlin were juiced. Johnson had used Stanzonol, one of the four steroids allowed under the RMTC guidelines. Gatlin’s steroid of choice was testosterone.

It was Catlin who developed the test for THG (tetrahydrogestrione), which was used to crack the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative case. Last year, one of those caught in the BALCO scandal, gold medalist Marion Jones, admitted to using steroids and lying to federal investigators.

At Keeneland March 17, Catlin said steroids make humans run faster, jump higher, and lift more. They have the same types of effects on horses, none of which are therapeutic in nature.

When asked what he thought when he learned how many drugs are permissible to use on Thoroughbreds in training, Catlin said he was both “surprised and horrified.”

Many medications used on the backstretches of America’s racetracks are necessary, and when used properly, help equine athletes compete to the best of their abilities.

Scientists and veterinarians, including Catlin, want to ensure that those are the only drugs being used. The goals are to rid the sport of harmful medications and catch the violators…no matter your politics.


Leave a Comment:

rae fernandez

i believe that it is the vet's that are putting the hold on the full implementation of steroids on behalf of the trainers, the trainers do not know how to train with out them and are afraid to find out that they can not train.

Horesemanship on the whole is a thing of the past with the hundred plus horse satbles for trainers.

that is why trainers like Service, Matz, Tagg,jones and ritchey have been able to dominate recently in the triple crown. They are horesemen first and their horses are always under their watchfull eye and fire every time they run.

Put away the steroids and other performance drugs and bring back the oats and water and then lets take oure horses out to the track and see who's horse is fastest.

26 Mar 2008 10:14 PM
Greg Robertson


"and when used properly, help equine athletes compete to the best of their abilities"

I'm not sure you put that in the text, doping or medicating horses at any level cauases them to perform beyond their ability at that time. It's called race fixing.

27 Mar 2008 1:41 AM

Mr Liebman,

Your articles on the steroid regulation issues over the past few months have been great to read.  It's very refreshing to get a real life perspective on the issues our industry is experiencing.  Thanks so much for the great work.

27 Mar 2008 8:46 PM
scott zeltt

I have been doing this since 1982.  Why are these drugs a problem?  Are there any long term effects. Oh yeah, horse don't live long enough for this to be an issue. Are all the treated horses dieing of testicular (not the geldings)cancer, ovarian cancer or other problems.  Show me these results.  Then ban the drugs.  Milkshakes(no drugs, only natural feedstuffs) banned.  As any other sport, we are looking for an advantage over the competition.  If everyone is using this, then it is a level playing field.  Thats like saying a high fat feed is an advantage, so you can not feed this.  You tell me when a filly or mare goes off there feed, that a steroid doesn't help pick up their appetite.  I could go on.

27 Mar 2008 10:37 PM
C Bea

The lack of comments on this topic says a lot about the state of things in our Industry, everyone's afraid to say anything for fear of being black-balled by other Industry players. This is why things will only change from the outside in...the Feds will come in and force changes as our Industry lacks the character to "do the right thing".

28 Mar 2008 8:57 AM

I have recently witnessed the abuse of steroids, specifically equipoise, in the use of young horses in training and I am now an advocate of steroid regulation.  Horses on high levels of steroids are awful to deal with and sometimes dangerous to handle, which therefore puts anyone who handles these horses at risk.  For those who say that steroids keep a horse's appetite up need to question why their horse does not want to eat.   Believe it or not, drugs are not the only way to fix horses' problems.  

28 Mar 2008 12:43 PM

nobody in the racing industry has the cojones to do a darn thing about cheating. it will only be stopped when the cruelty to animals groups get involved and start sueing tracks,trainers,vets,owners and organizations that are responsible.

28 Mar 2008 3:47 PM

to the person who likes Service, Matz, Tagg,jones and ritchey, have never spent a day in their barn.  Why does one vet spend OVER 1 hour in Ritcheys barn every day with a tray full of syringes.  Unless you have been on the backstretch of Fair Hill, Del Park, Phila Park and other tracks, you really have no idea.

28 Mar 2008 8:15 PM
some one who knows

As someone else who apparently knows,scott zeltt, commented steroids are a very useful tool and can be very beneficial without harming the horse in any way. The problem is not with use it is with abuse! Steroids just like a lot of other things are beneficial when used properly and harmful when abused. In humans Tylenol is one of those things; over use of Tylenol has lead to the need for liver transplants and even death. Should we ban Tylenol? No, but we should be educated about it not abuse it. There are a million ways to fix a race-a little bit of equipoise 36 hours out isn't one of them- believe me! The problem with the people pushing for the complete ban of steroids in racing is that they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about and they need to become educated by working in the actual training aspect of the racing business so they can see things for themselves before coming to these conclusions. As for young horses in training (yearlings and even early 2 yr olds) I do believe that there are probably no circumstances under which they should be given anabolic steroids. Their bodies are still forming and steroids will interfere with normal development. That isn't even about race fixing that's about getting big bucks in the sales ring.  

29 Mar 2008 5:25 PM

I'm not a horseman, just a fan, but I love the sport and I want to know why other countries ban drugs, but us.

Can someone please answer me that?

30 Mar 2008 1:04 AM
3rd gen

one thing lacking is the lack of studies on the us most runners are gelded .i used on occasion equipoise on my horses in limited amounts-it was good to get a knocked out horse going again in the feed tub and back to training with zest.horses are fragile in thier mind at times and when suffering a hard defeat can lose their heart this is more evident in geldings . but with this said i have seen gross overuse and think a ban is not unwarrented. it is sad the few abusers can take a usefull tool away.i think we need to restrict the vets to approved medication lists that can be carried onto racetrack grounds and any narcotics or drugs that are not needed be administered under supervision of the state vet.any violation result in disbarrment.

31 Mar 2008 12:41 PM

I don't mean to be rude, but apparently nobody can answer the question of why other countries ban drugs, except us. I'll re-phrase the question to limit it to the current discussion of steroids.

Whether or not steroids have legitimate uses is irrelevant, if other countries ban them. So... do other countries in fact ban steroids? And if they do, can somebody please give me a reason why we shouldn't do the same?

Horse racing is international and if we're to continue to compete on a global scale, then the playing field should be level, don't you think? If we're using steroids over here and other countries aren't, is the playing field level? I don't think so.

31 Mar 2008 3:59 PM


31 Mar 2008 11:46 PM

I wasn't aware of the magnitud of this issue.. i wonder were will end.. are we facing the possiblity to see our beloved sport in a congress hearing?....

01 Apr 2008 11:39 AM

I absolutely do not understand how no one points to the huge difference in racing over human use, and that is the use in geldings.  Geldings have very little natural testosterone of any kind -- and it can be argued that in certain cases to level the playing field when competing with colts NEED steroids.  This is a very great difference.  By all means, ban steroids in colts, horses, fillies, and mares, but I think a very good argument could be made for their occasional use in geldings.

01 Apr 2008 2:16 PM

Fine. You gave me an answer and that's what I wanted. I didn't outright say, ban steroids or don't ban steroids, I simply asked if other countries do, and if so, why don't we? So now, by your answer, the inference that I'm taking is that other countries don't race geldings. Correct?

02 Apr 2008 12:15 AM

If steroids and race prep medications cannot be banned,let's just take the trainers name off from the Race Program and replace it with the vets name and let the public decide which vets are the best trainers.

02 Apr 2008 4:51 PM

Johnny, to answer your question, yes, steroids are banned in Europe at any time and all other drugs are banned on race day. There are no "threshold" levels of anything - the horse is drug-free or it is running illegally. In France, a positive test for a steroid - any steroid at any time the horse is in training - will cost the offending trainer their license. And that's on first offense. So are they necessary? No. If a horse isn't eating, there's a problem that needs to be solved.

02 Apr 2008 5:13 PM

Anonymous, thanks for the reply. I strongly suspected they were banned in Europe, and if I'm not mistaken, Dubai, Hong Kong, and probably Japan also bans everything; but I wanted to be sure.

02 Apr 2008 10:09 PM
Al London

It seems your expert Dr. Don Catlin has taken a negative position on the usage of steroids in horses but admits to knowing very little about the equine animal and how it is effected by the legal usage of the particular steroid. When we speak of true scientists, they gather facts and THEN come to conclusions. Catlin has it backwards. Was he hired to support the ideas of others who want a ban for their own political reasons?

04 Apr 2008 10:32 AM

I don't suppose we could breed sound, strong horses and then see, drug free, which one could run?  Sounds like a level playing field to me, but it would require some horsemanship.  The earlier comment about Tagg, et al being horsemen and that is the reason for their success was a direct hit on the truth.

04 Apr 2008 1:55 PM

IF YOUR HORSE ISN'T EATING-DON'T GIVE IT STERIODS!!!! Sorry but if the horse is sick DONT INGORE IT AND LOAD THEM UP-FIND OUT WHAT IS WRONG!!! If they miss a work so be it.  If someone is worried about the cost or loss of purse $ due to not being able to race-YOU MUST NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD THE CARE YOUR HORSE/INVESTMENT DESERVES!!!!!!!!

04 Apr 2008 9:56 PM

Who said anything about being sick. Public perception and reality are two different things.  Are you also against milkshaking? Is it really ok to give a sore horse bute? Now bute can cause many problems if misused also.  In Kentucky, bute must be declared at the time of entry.  Lets see all these so called great horseman, that don't run on bute.  Oh yeah, they all do.  So why is this legal?  Why is lasix legal?  Why is steroids illgal?  Why is Amacar legal?  Does the public pay any attention to this.  The only reason this is bringing any attention, is the press wants you to.  They don't understand it either.  You give any good trainer $30,000,000 to go to the sales each year, any one of them can give you $20,000,000 back in purses.  You do the math.

05 Apr 2008 8:42 PM
Billy D.

I know your all going to think I'm crazy and old fashioned, however I think it should go back to the old days in New York when it was just "hay, oats & water." If a horse is sound enough to run clean then he shouldn't be running. By doing this you eliminating the possibility of illegal doping. The only race day medication I would allow is Bute, perhaps lasix. This wouldn't mask any weaknesses in horses as they race. Plus the tracks blew millions of dollars making racing surfaces safer, there should be no need for steroids. In my opinion Drugs only make the breed dependent on them thereby weakening bloodlines. This is in part why you see such short racing careers today. With the way purses are today you'd think horses would be racing until their 5 or 6. Horses raced more times a year 35 years ago when purses were a mere pittance compared to today. It's ashamed the owners have no guts to keep their champions racing to age 5 or 6 today. I'm no vet by no means but they didn't have all these options 100 years ago and they seemed to turn out some of the best horses in the first part of the last century. To digress a bit it's also ashamed to see some of our best bloodlines sold to foreign interest in the name of a dollar only to see their offspring race a few times per year, on the grass at that! The saddest day I had in recent memory was when Claiborne Farm sold Forty Niner to Japanese interest.  

08 Apr 2008 8:16 PM

Billy D, you mentioned Lasix, another medication that is not allowed in other countries. Someone once told me that one of the reasons for using Lasix on horses over here, is due to all the pollution. In other countries, training centers are away from the cities where the air is probably cleaner. Any truth to this?

All I know is I can't look at a list of race entries and not see the "L" under the medication column. Lasix, to my knowledge came into vogue in the late 80s. Before that, horses seemed to do just fine without it, were more durable, sounder, raced longer, oftentimes had little spacing between races, and many carried weight over distances of ground. I don't believe in overracing a horse, but I do think the animals were probably better conditioned and sounder, thus being better able to withstand the rigors of a racing schedule.

I know trainers often use Lasix because they think it's a competitive edge, right? But if everybody is using it, where's the edge? Why should a drug be used to give an athlete a competitive edge anyway? I thought hard work, training, sound nutrition, and also adequate rest, were supposed to do that. I'm not sure I also buy into the idea that without Lasix there wouldn't be any horses to run, because, again, the old timers didn't rely on Lasix.

09 Apr 2008 12:57 AM
Billy D.

In response to Johnny and the matter of Lasix, all I do know about Lasix is it's an anti-bleeding dieuretic. I don't know about the pollution. I know in order to get on Lasix, a horse has to have bled at least in a race. I don't know about training though. The air might be cleaner in the country however I don't think pollution causes bleeding in a horse.

10 Apr 2008 7:40 PM
Old School

I believe that steroids should be strickly banned in the US. I watch horses being trained daily that exercise and run on hay, oats and water. They do run on low dosages of lasix (10cc being a maximum prerace limit) and bute, however, they do not compete on steriods and they win races; large and small. It can be done and I'm proud to be associated with those who still train responsibly and truly "like" horses.

22 Apr 2008 1:01 PM

Why should ANY drug be allowed to give an athlete a "competitive" edge? This is a betting sport and a drug related "competitive edge" should be equal to fixing the outcome of a race; which is a felony.  Trainers should be held accountable and prosecuted as such.  Dutrow just got slapped AGAIN today!  He is an example of how trainers will use and do anything to get the money at the expense of the horse!  Has any trainer learned anything from their suspesions?  No, they just get more creative with their mixtures!!! If we had a 3 strikes you're out rule you might get their attention because the current rulings are just slaps on the wrist. It has got to stop!  It is time to ban ALL drugs if you want to clean up the sport as some drugs (like Lasix) can mask the use of other drugs; giving you  another "competitive edge". A level playing field is no drugs, no exceptions. Takes the guesswork out of determining racing levels, etc.  CLEAN AND SIMPLE!!!

25 Jun 2008 9:58 AM
texas girl

Hopefully someone can give me some advice.I was recently  given a race horse in really bad shape(just skin and bones).He is very high spirited and I think he would make a good horse.He is just

in really bad shape from the withdraw of steroids given to him.

Now im a horse lover by nature but still a little green in knowledge and couldnt see him being put down.What could i do to help him back to health without the need of steroids?

23 May 2010 5:33 PM

Recent Posts

More Blogs