Curlin off steroid and on roll once again

By JOE DRAPE | The New York Times | 10 July 2007

Mr. Drape filed the following article:

Curlin was named Horse of the Year in 2007, an accomplishment perhaps attained with the help of the anabolic steroid Winstrol, his owner, Jess Jackson, has acknowledged. Now, Jackson is hoping to prove that Curlin is not merely a chemically enhanced colt, but a true champion.

In January, Jackson discovered that Curlin was receiving the steroid and ordered the trainer Steve Asmussen to discontinue its use. In three races since, Curlin is undefeated, and he turned in an seven-and-three-quarter-length victory over a star-studded field at the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March.

On Saturday in the Grade I $500,000 Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park, Curlin will try to capture his fourth race in a row steroid-free. It will also be his first race on grass, the surface that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe will be contested on Oct. 5 at Longchamp Race Course in Paris. Winning the race is the goal Jackson has set for Curlin, not only to prove that the colt is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but also in the hope of lifting the embattled sport of horse racing.

“I’m trying to prove that Curlin is a real champion, and that we can race horses into their 4-year-old years and beyond,” said Jackson, 78, the founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson Winery. “I want to show the industry that we can breed horses with stamina and durability, and race them clean.”

Last month, Jackson put Asmussen on notice — as well as the other trainers for his more than 60 racehorses — that he would independently drug-test his horses after each race. He warned that they would be fired if the horses tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Shortly thereafter, Texas racing officials said that a horse trained by Asmussen tested positive for the anesthetic lidocaine. Asmussen has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer, Maggie Moss, said that the test was faulty , that Asmussen was not allowed to send the urine and blood tests to a laboratory of his choosing for independent verification, and that they disputed the results.

Jackson said he believed Asmussen and would see how the allegation played out before Texas racing officials. He said Asmussen knew where Jackson stood on drugs.

“I’m against all performance-enhancing drugs, or anything that masks or conceals designer drugs,” said Jackson, who acknowledged Curlin’s steroid use Tuesday in response to The New York Times’s request for his veterinary records. “I have been for zero tolerance since the 1950s. We have to start bringing our horses down from all these chemicals.”

Jackson acknowledged that the continuing turmoil over drugs and fragile horses has eclipsed the accomplishments of talented horses like Curlin.

Last month, a Congressional subcommittee lambasted the sport for lax drug policies, faulty breeding and an emphasis on greed over transparency in a hearing prompted by the death of the filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, and by the admission by the trainer Rick Dutrow that Big Brown, this year’s Derby and Preakness Stakes champion, received Winstrol.

Jackson testified at the hearing and was one of many witnesses who asked Congress for help cleaning up the sport, even if it meant reopening the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, which provided the legal basis for wagering on horse races across state lines. Last year, such betting accounted for 90 percent of the $15 billion wagered on thoroughbred races.

Jackson told the subcommittee that Curlin demonstrated that a horse could run without drugs. “Not that he didn’t in the past, but we changed that,” he told Congress in his testimony.

A week later, on the same day the allegations about Asmussen surfaced in Texas, Kentucky racing officials suspended Dutrow for 15 days when one of his horses tested positive for twice the allowable level of clenbuterol, a bronchial dilator that helps burn fat and promote muscle growth.

Dutrow and Asmussen have been disciplined before for medication violations. Dutrow has been fined or suspended at least once every year since 2000. He served a 60-day suspension in 2005 after two of his horses tested positive for banned substances and for a claiming violation.

Asmussen also has numerous medication violations. He was suspended for six months last year by the Louisiana Racing Commission after one of his horses tested positive for the local anesthetic mepivacaine, which can deaden pain in a horse’s legs. Jackson said that Asmussen, a second-generation horseman, came of age in an industry that has not always encouraged fair play or endorsed harsh penalties.

Jackson has been frustrated by off-track controversies that have impinged on the ambitious 4-year-old campaign for Curlin that — if it goes to plan — may end in the winners’ circle of one of the world’s most prestigious races. Jackson chose to race Curlin another year when most owners retire accomplished horses to the breeding shed. Big Brown will be retired at the end of this year at age 3 to stand stud for a deal valued at $50 million to $60 million.

Instead, Jackson hopes to shift the paradigm. Curlin did not race as a 2-year-old, and was inexperienced but sound at 3 when he finished third in the Derby, won the Preakness Stakes and the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, and ran second in the Belmont. Now at 4, Curlin is a fully mature and remarkable racehorse.

“He is what racing should be about,” Jackson said.

Related Reading: In First Test on Grass, Curlin Finishes 2nd, Joe Drape, The New York Times, July 13, 2008

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