Deja Vu All Over Again - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the July 21, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell “The medication issue has been a major one in racing for more than 20 years. Knee-jerk reaction...will not answer the public reaction aspect, nor solve the basic problem. It cries for more research, more reason, less ignorance, no apathy.”

Sound familiar? The above quote could easily have come from the hearing conducted July 12 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in Washington, D.C. The hearing was held to gather more testimony regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing.

The quote, however, came from a “What’s Going on Here” column written by former editor Kent Hollingsworth that appeared in the June 11, 1979, issue of The Blood-Horse. At the time, the racing industry was reacting to an exposé by 60 Minutes regarding breakdowns and phenylbutazone. And here we are 33 years later, wrestling with the same issues—sensationalistic reporting by the mainstream media, calls for more research, and promises that the industry will develop a set of uniform regulations and penalties that all racing states will adopt (we swear!).

The industry has created model rules through the Association of Racing Commissioners International, and most racing jurisdictions have adopted some variation of them. Because racing is regulated by the states, however, commissions and/or legislatures are free to give drug withdrawal times and penalties their own spin. Take the bronchodilator clenbuterol, for example. In California, the withdrawal time (the time between administration and post time) is four days. In Delaware, Illinois, and Michigan it’s seven days, and in Maryland it’s three days. In 2010 the RCI Model Rules Committee approved lowering the allowable level of race-day non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone from 5 micrograms per milliliter to 2 micrograms. Minnesota just revised its racing medication rules and left the legal Bute level at 5 micrograms.

They are model rules, all right, but not models of consistency.

Four months ago, The Blood-Horse (issue dated March 31) ran a package of stories devoted to examining the feasibility of a national racing office and discovered it’s unlikely the sport will ever have an all-encompassing league headquarters that coordinates TV schedules, manages a national marketing campaign, and is responsible for implementing rules and enforcement. It doesn’t mean, however, the sport cannot have some version of this ideal by endorsing a national policy for medication rules and penalties. The idea of implementing a federal guideline for medication and penalties was floated during the recent congressional hearing.

Is that the solution? Maybe. Supporters of federal guidelines say it will ensure consistency and eliminate the ability of states such as Minnesota to play outside the rules. Opponents say the existing differences in rules among a vast majority of racing states are not significant enough—that they all embrace the spirit of the regulations—and the number of the worst violators is so few that federal intervention is simply not warranted.

This we know: The racing industry has had its opportunities time and time again to create uniformity and, however close it may be now, it is still short of the goal. And we’ve run out of time. Either the industry gets ahead of this runaway train and drafts its own national guidelines to be enforced through a national compact or it risks having federal guidelines thrust upon it that may wrongfully identify all medications as “performance-enhancing” and potentially tie compliance with simulcasting.

The risks of further inaction cannot be overstated. Without progress, we may not have a viable sport to defend in another 30 years. 

Editor's Note:  California has tightened up its rule on clenbuterol. Effective July 18, the withdrawal time is 21 days.


Leave a Comment:

an ole railbird

 all of the statements in this articule, are true,

 but, the fact remains that, the people whom are pushing for, this new bureacracy, are totatly ignorant of what really is happening on the backside,( or @ the farms). what they have based their opinions on, are plainly & simpely, the products of propaganda. this propaganda have been used to poison the minds of the well meaning, but ingorant city dewellers, who has not (for genorations),not had a chance to have hands on experince, with any kind of animals. other than house pets.

these well meaning people who are the spawning, from the concrete jungles, that have relied solely on the internet, for their sourse of information.

  having said that . its completely understandable, that you have been fed & led by imformation, that was engineered to destroy the industry & promote the idea that horses are the same as your lap dogs.

  if you are 1 of these people, who fall in to this category.

PLEASE, be responsible enough to explore both the pros & the cons of the subject matter, before making statements, or engageing in any thing that could be used against horse racing, in general.

  non facts, half truths & out right lies are quioted daily, & in great numbers.   once it is put out there, misimfortmation, well be miss used ,thousands of time, before it can be corrected. & the loss of the true facts, are for the most part, lost in the suffell.

if you are a true race horse fan ,you will try anything to repair some of the damage already done. thank you for the chance to voice my opinion.

 wishing a happy day to all,

    "an ole railbird"

17 Jul 2012 1:21 PM
Old Old Cat

Having the federal government involved seems to be a deathknell to racing.  Rules would be made, and the problems would be: the rules would be made by political appointees; once a rule was made, changing it would be nearly impossible, even if it proved illogical, unfeasible, unfair, etc., to everyone; everything would be politically influenced (by donations to the ins).  That being said, maybe having a national racing committee controled by the federal government would be the least of many evils.  I assume that the federal government could step in under eminent domain since every track engages in interstate gambling through comixed signals sent over the airwaves.  

17 Jul 2012 3:35 PM

i have stated this before. forced compliance is easily attained. take away all graded stakes races from uncooperative tracks. the graded stakes committe members had their chance to do this and they all folded like cheap cowards. if any one of them had an ounce of integrity they would resign asap. all they do is award the graded stakes to their own pet tracks and screw everyone else. there were at least 10 supposedly grade 1 races last year with grade 3 horses!

17 Jul 2012 5:16 PM
Needler in Virginia

With all due respect Ole Railbird, the time for what you request is long past. Racing has proven it can make the right noises, but that it will fail to do the right thing. Race day drugs are NOT acceptable, and while racing talks the talk it has never walked the walk. Trainers scream when questioned that outsiders don't understand and this problem should be left for racing to solve. That has not, and will not, happen. Racing has proven THAT time and time again. If racing is to survive, some sort of independent body must step in and save it from itself. Now how sad is that?? Those who have watched all these years have seen the writing on the wall, wrung their hands, and formed committees which issue statements, ultimata, pronouncements and goals..........BUT NOTHING HAPPENS! Your "true race horse fans" believe that, if the breed itself is to be saved (never mind horse racing overall), drugs must be dealt with now, sternly and swiftly; any half measures will result in a slow, gradual, almost imperceptible return to exactly where racing finds itself now.

And, Old Old Cat, it seems that Interstate commerce would be a more likely area in which to establish jurisdiction than eminent domain, but I get your point. While I do NOT want another regulatory agency, it seems that this is the only way  for racing to see the light. Believe me, I DO NOT want to see racing end........EVER. The thought of never seeing another Kentucky Derby or Haskell or Travers or Big 'Cap breaks my heart..............

17 Jul 2012 11:28 PM

Reply to; an ole railbird,understand truth is not reality. Unfortunately, perception is reality and we as a sport and industry are perceived badly.

18 Jul 2012 10:33 AM

"an ole railbird"  I absolutely LOVE reading your comments!  You are a gem and people would learn much from you if they would only listen.

18 Jul 2012 10:37 AM
Your Only Friend

Until All Racing States have uniform drug policy there will always be problem somewhere.....they cannot even set dirty trainers down without going through multi major hearings and both party's know trainer is dirty.....want the government out of racing then get uniform drug policy for all racing states.Do not complain if government comes down.

18 Jul 2012 4:25 PM

Ole Railbird, please break down the "lap dog" comment for me, plain English, as I tend to be dense and get confused easily when folks try to tell me how different animals require different emotions. Did you mean, horses are not pets and must be viewed as "livestock" as you so put it in a previous blog? Or does that just refer to race horses not being worthy of the love you'd lavish on a "lap dog"? See how confusing this gets?

I'm not certain how YOU feel about medication in racing, but here's how I feel, I love horse racing, but not at the expense of the thoroughbred breed. We need to find out why our horses are breaking apart in pieces. They retire at the age of 3. They will never see 70 races like yesteryear, many will be lucky to run 7 times. That is pathetic. They fall like dominoes, it's disturbing, to say the least. If medication or whatever it may be, is the culprit, damn it. If it's between the horses and the sport, it's horses for me. Keep your lap dog.

19 Jul 2012 6:10 AM

It should be noted that California has tightened its rules on clenbuterol. A new rule went into effect July 18 raising the withdrawal period to 21 days.

19 Jul 2012 5:22 PM
an ole railbird

ksweatsman9, you said it ,not me. "dense & confused."

  I was not trying to tell anyone, what kind of realationship to have with their horses.

 i was adressing the people who have only book knowledge of the horse world. these same people , setting in their ivory towers, with freak bred lap dog, on lap,get on the internet & rail to the multitudes, about the mistreatment of race horses. AND how the breed has been genetically destroyed.

i was in no way telling anyone, the type of relationship to have with their horses. but they in turn have no business calling for legislation, telling professional horse trainers, how to do their jobs.

  as far as my opinion on the drug issue.

you can do away with drugs, & pass rules, until the "red sea" parts again. AND you still will not stop horses from bleeding or breaking down. it is in the gentic make up brought about by modern technology.

 the modern horse is still built(fair comparesome) on a model t frame. modern tech. has put corvette engines,stronger transmissions, better fuel mixtures, into the oranginal frame. all the while with no way to put more strength in the running gears of animals.

 why dont you do away with lasix & scopeing both.

that would hide the fact that most horses was bleeding at all.

then you can feel real good when you see a horse in the winners circle, who hacks,a couple of times, then blows snot & blood, all over everyone in the winners circle. and then dies in front of the whole crowd.

  i fear that is where all of this is going.

 but its not some where that we have not already been. (before the medical fields gave us the medicines that were needed.)

 now ,sir , if thats not plain enough for you to understand, then, i can not help you. you will need the services of a witch doctor or a shrink.

but i will still wish you a happy day. "an ole railbird".

20 Jul 2012 11:01 AM

Lets start on where this really started the breeders! They started inbreeding and defining them taking away bone density and lighter bone take a look at the old days and see all the bone that those horses had!!!! Now look they put a 1000 on tooth pics!!!! Then send them to the sales they need a yearling to look like a long 2 year old so they give them steriods from the timed there weaned! Off to the sales buffed to the max! Then they except these  colts to stay sound! Once  there broke and sent to a 2 year old in training sale thats when they get the first taste of the vets what ever it takes to get in the 10's no matter what!!!!!!!!!!!! This used to be the sport of kings and now its the sport of deep pockets and syringes full of what ever can get past the test! The Unites States is the laughing stock of racing through out the world! Many years ago we were looked upon as the greatest place to race in the world! Thanks to the vets and the trainers that can't train with out the drugs have disgraced this game to know end!!!!!!!!!!! Wake up congress and make this a clean game again NO DRUGS of any sort and lets have the breeders go back and breed for bone and conformation and trainers train for the love of the horse and his well being!!!!!!!!!  The only people against this are the people that are cheating! Only game in the world that we reward cheaters!!!!! Send them down the road not to the courts and lets make this Game Clean and Fun once again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

21 Jul 2012 1:52 PM
Needler in Virginia

ksweatman9, the railbird isn't gonna get it, but the rest of us do. Save your breath and go post on the Industry Voices > Time to Rewrite the Rules blog. You've got a better chance of making your point over there!

Cheers and safe trips to almost all...........

21 Jul 2012 8:05 PM

TO: Needler in Virginia 17 Jul 2012 11:28 PM  and

ksweatman9 19 Jul 2012 6:10 AM--

Thank you for your comments which I agree with and thank you for stating your comments clearly, using correct grammar and spelling.  Your posts are easy to read and understand.  And to ksweatman9, you are NOT "dense and confused", your post is polite.

22 Jul 2012 12:53 PM
Needler in Virginia

maryann727, thanks for your thanks. Even though I own a computer (she said laughingly), I will NOT use computer speak! It's possible that railbird is saying things we might agree with, but cannot tell since the posts are written that way. Whatever happened to punctuation??? I know, I know: I'm an old fuddy duddy but I can still spell, so everyone will just have to put up with my "old style". Like it or lump it, it's me...........

Cheers and safe trips.

23 Jul 2012 12:42 PM

well, the only way to stop this Lasix/Salix problem is to write races for non Lasix users, and races for lasix users, only that

I do believe that any Racehorse that gets Salix/Lasix is a sick horse, so then also these horses using Lasix/Salix, should not be eligible to race in graded stakes

or any stakes races, as they are sick horses, so when this is finally accepted as the way to go, then we will se drastic no lasix/salix users, and the Horses will return to happiness once more, as back in the old days!!!

so there is a way to stop these drugs, just write races for users, and non users, and most importantly, cut the purses for drug users, and up the purses for non drug users, as my theory is if Horses need lasix/salix then they are bleeders, and bleeders racing on this drug are sick horses!!!

23 Jul 2012 8:06 PM

Do we really want to do what Europe does with lasix?  We give lasix typically when a horse breezes and runs.  This protects the horse.  In Europe, who can not use lasix race day, uses it daily.  Do we really want this?  This should be a concern for what really happens to a horse that get lasix daily.  Ever wonder why the foreign horses all use lasix when they come here?  They are already getting it.  As for the safety of the horse, bleeding into the lungs is not good.  We only discovered this problem since fiberoptic endoscopy.  Before this, we had no idea what was going on down there.  Horses do not breakdown down from getting lasix.  Name one incident.  There is none.  So lets stop this and move on to the real problem.  Getting horse racing back on top.  

24 Jul 2012 9:09 AM

I don't question that many of the people who comment on these blogs know a thing or two about horse flesh, but as far as European ponies are concerned, let's draw a comparison. Desert Orchid raced 70 times, rough hard trips, deadly falls, he honored the sport for 10 years and continued to win top level races during his 10 year reign. The gorgeous gray gelding lived to be 27. Red Rum ran 110 times, ONE HUNDRED AND TEN, he thrilled the world of racing for an entire decade. He won 3 Grand Nationals, which is the equivalent of "death match 2000", countless horses have drawn their last breath in that race. Red Rum lived to be 30 years old. Europe has produced some of the toughest thoroughbreds to ever live, and these legends didn't live a century ago. Today our horses run a handful of races, break into pieces, and retire at the age of 3, IF they are lucky enough to survive their injuries at all.  Perhaps it's how you view greatness, but I don't think our best of all time are better than Red Rum and Dessie. When you are comparing 20 races to 110, it begins to look like apples and oranges. What was the comment about Euro horses?

25 Jul 2012 5:21 PM
Needler in Virginia

Game, set and match, ksweatman9! And well said. But you forgot Simenon who ran and won 2 1/2 miles on that Tuesday at Royal Ascot, then ran back four days later to win at 2 3/4 miles and won that one, too. Do I hear any comparisons from the crowd about Euros vs US?

Cheers and safe trips!

25 Jul 2012 10:29 PM

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