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.

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