Policy Play - by Dan Liebman

The Breeders’ Cup took important steps last week to help ensure the integrity of its races, while at the same time prodding those states not already on board to hurry and establish steroid policies for tracks its racing authority regulates.

Should a horse test positive for anabolic steroids at the Oct. 24-25 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita, the trainer of that horse will be suspended from the event for one year. The organization also instituted a “three strikes” rule that would ban a trainer from Breeders’ Cup races for life should horses in his care violate the steroids policy three times.

Perhaps more importantly, beginning Jan. 1, 2009, Breeders’ Cup will not help fund purses or hold Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races at tracks that are not following the model rules for steroid use established by the Racing Commissioners International.

With calls for uniform medication rules within the industry for decades, Breeders’ Cup officials are helping move racing in that direction.

While it is important for policies to be uniform from state to state, it is also necessary for the rules and regulations to be the same for claiming horses as they are for grade I horses. But headlines are made by “big” races and “name” horses, so the Breeders’ Cup forcing the issue is the right thing at the right time.

In this instance, the big race was the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the big horse was Eight Belles, whose breakdown while galloping out after finishing second on racing’s biggest stage made the type of headlines the sport was not looking for.

But, in fact, her tragic death has become a rallying cry for an industry often criticized for holding many meetings but accomplishing little. Many positive decisions have been made to help right the plight of the Thoroughbred since the death of Eight Belles.

Organizations such as the Breeders’ Cup have gotten the message that the time is right for not only urgent, but clear, decisive, and strong action.

In the release announcing its new policies, Breeders’ Cup chairman Bill Farish said the organization’s board believed it was crucial to take a leadership role in ridding anabolic steroids from the sport. He is correct. In fact, it has a responsibility to lead the sport into new territory, and based on its new policies, it is taking that duty seriously.

The Breeders’ Cup’s hard line on steroids is one of several firsts currently happening in the industry.

Thoroughbred auctions at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland are being conducted this summer and fall under new conditions of sale, prompted by recommendations from the Sales Integrity Task Force.

Like the Breeders’ Cup has said it is watching trainers and veterinarians, the Task Force is watching breeders, consignors, buyers, and agents. It has taken some steps to help ensure the integrity of the Thoroughbred auction place, while realizing it has taken only the first steps in that process.

A monitoring committee has been established by the Task Force, with Fasig-Tipton chairman and former Breeders’ Cup head D.G. Van Clief Jr. as its leader. It is not easy to reach a consensus when self-regulating, but Van Clief ensures integrity in the process.

Other important matters, such as the disclosure of surgeries of young horses before they are sold, are being discussed by the members of the group.


In New York, the first $100,000 allowance race was run at Saratoga after the New York Racing Association instituted a new policy adding purse money to distance races (nine furlongs or more) with more than six (dirt) or eight (turf) starters. The idea, conceived by NYRA chairman Steve Duncker and refined by racing secretary P.J. Campo, is a great step in promoting durability in the breed. 


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I absolutely applauded the Breeders Cup working with NTRA to ban anabolic steroids, while implementing a harsh punishments for those who would get caught in the future.  This is a great step to get the ball rolling in the sport.  If the big-time, major horse racing states are too stubborn to adopt or concede to what the racing fans are demanding (Kentucky, New York, Florida, etc.), then they'll lose any real support from the dwindling fan base and towards the fall championships.

I also applaud NYRA for putting more emphasis on purses for longer distances.  Hopefully, that'll change the too-obssessive mindset of the speed breeders into thinking that durability and stamina is just as thrilling and awesome as sprints.  Personally, I think the longer the distance the better the race.

05 Aug 2008 12:23 PM

Dan...Why stop w/the Breeders'Cup races insofar as banning anabolic steroids is concerned as these trainers should be held accountable irrespective of whether its the Breeders'Cup or an $3000.00 claiming race somewhere? True..big horses and major races due indeed make the headlines and bring to the attention of the public..racing and non-racing alike their success or failure on the track..however..what about the betting public whom are wagering daily on the lowly claiming races and whom are not cognizant as to whether they are wagering on an animal that has been injected w/anabolic steroids or not? Is that fair? The playing field is not level here...Will someone please tell me?? The time has come and its so long over due to roll out an drug uniformity program that is endemic nationally...What is taking so long and why the resistance...Mea culpa..mea culpa.. I just cannot help but keep thinking federal intervention someday......Thanx always for the window Dan...Steve Stone..East Hanover.. New Jersey..

05 Aug 2008 1:02 PM

I'm very happy to see the drug rules change and the move by the NYRA is also awesome. It's just awesome to see people trying to advance the breed and possibly save the sport of Horse Racing.

05 Aug 2008 1:36 PM
captain cabernet

and about time. i was at pimlico and saw Big Brown come down the stretch looking like a great horse. then he was taken off steroids and since has had the belmont debacle followed by a clearly labored win against a less than stellar field.  is Big Brown just another example of a good athlete who is capable of turning in great performances as long as he is on the juice? he sure didn't look like $50 million in the haskell.  either the steroid issue will be laid to rest or the sport will be.

05 Aug 2008 3:16 PM

An honest sport would honestly attract bettors.  With the legal accessibility of the internet, horse racing should be exploding in popularity...if only you could trust it.

06 Aug 2008 2:16 AM

I also like the policys being developed over the toe grab issue. Ban them it's about time.

06 Aug 2008 2:36 PM

Its about time.  In all fairness to the betting public, they now need to ban everything else (lasix) and require all to be drug free and clean when they race,  before, during and after.

07 Aug 2008 1:58 PM

What happened to honesty and integrity in our sport? What happened to fairness in competition? Sports have become cold and hard in the profit driven business world. Hey, I'm not saying it's wrong to have a business pay for itself, or make a profit. To survive, HR needs to come clean - start to finish - breeding shed to finish line. More sport and less sales calls.

07 Aug 2008 6:03 PM

When I was training in Australia which has a race day ban on ALL drugs, and they raced without toe grabs, we had few horses breaking down I felt comfortable on an even "playing field. Sometimes the grass courses would dry up in summer and be hard as a rock then, in winter would be over a horses ankles. Yet they raced soundly. What is wrong with that?

11 Aug 2008 1:41 PM

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