Under the Micro-Scopolamine - By Evan Hammonds

One of the old adages of the Thoroughbred industry is “there are no secrets in racing.” Whispers burn up the backstretch, making it nearly impossible to hide a sharp 2-year-old working lights out toward its debut. Rumors swirl around stallions for weeks in advance of a press release noting they’ve been sold domestically or overseas.

Well, apparently the California Horse Racing Board is able to keep mum…for about a year and a half when it comes to some positive test results. The sport has been abuzz since Sept. 11 when a yearling sold for $8.2 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale and the New York Times published Joe Drape’s report “Justify Failed a Drug Test Before Winning the Triple Crown.”

Mainstream media jumped in with both feet. Respected Yahoo.com columnist Pat Forde offered up the click-bait-worthy “Justify drug controversy pushes horse racing toward the end” with a strong lead: “Go ahead and mark down 2019 as the beginning of the end for horse racing.”

While the mounting number of equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park this winter and spring threatened a potential demise of racing in Southern California, little did we know that the members of the CHRB might have done even more damage to the public’s perception.

While some have praised the CHRB’s process in the Justify case, more have plenty of questions. So do we. The biggest one is how are they able to take it upon themselves to determine the positive was a case of contamination…and then not bother to share that information with anyone else.

Regardless of the fact it’s within the rights of the CHRB to handle the case the way they did, the red flags are everywhere.

For years a certain segment of the Thoroughbred community has called for uniform rules and a national code of conduct. One of the battle cries is “public perception.”

The same rang true earlier this year with the situation with the main track and turf surfaces at Santa Anita. Regardless of whether they were safe, it was “public perception” that needed to be addressed.

While we’re at it, it’s apparent there has been an issue with scopolamine and contamination in Southern California for some time. With today’s stringent testing methods, how is it not possible for the CHRB to have addressed this and come up with practical guidelines for contaminants that occur in bedding and feed?

The re-introduction of the Horseracing Integrity Act, co-sponsored by Kentucky representative Andy Barr and New York representative Paul Tonko, earlier this year certainly should gain some more traction after the outing of the CHRB’s actions.

To review, the key elements of the Horseracing Integrity Act are:

  • Establishes a conflict-free, self-regulatory organization responsible for creating and implementing an anti-doping program for the entire horse racing industry

  • Standardized list of permitted and prohibited substances, treatments, and methods for all covered races in the U.S.

  • Requires full and fair information disclosure to breeding stock purchasers and the wagering public

It’s of note that the CHRB left the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the umbrella regulatory group that crafts model rules it then encourages state members to adopt, citing concerns the group was not acting quickly enough on needed reforms it was putting in place following the rash of breakdowns at Santa Anita. However, a year prior, the CHRB apparently took its own code of conduct into its own hands.

Regardless of whether the board thought it was doing the right thing, it’s the perception of behind-the-scenes, closed-door dealing that smells to the general public.

As pointed out by former ARCI chairman Joe Gorajec, “They have a public trust, and the public is only going to trust them if they act in a manner that’s fair, consistent, and subject to public scrutiny. What the CHRB did may be fair, but it’s not consistent and certainly wasn’t open to the public.”

For years now the sport, on a state-by-state basis, has been slow to come around to a unified, national policy toward policing the sport. The argument has always been a “we’ve got this” attitude.

Well, we ain’t got this one.

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