Silhouette of Racehorse and Rider. Mark Lennihan / AP Image.

Overall rule and radical reform not damage control required in horse racing

Horse racing in America needs radical reform and an overall ruling body empowered by Congress governing it, not media relation exercises designed to trick the public into thinking that the sport is clean and its horses safe from abuse and death.

An example of the type of thinking that needs to go appears in an article by Tim Wilkin for the Times Union.

Alex Waldrop. Image by Anne M. Eberhardt.
NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop. Image by Anne M. Eberhardt.

“The casual fan is interested in the integrity of the sport,” said Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “They are aware that cheating occurs. We need to convince the public that our athletes are safe and our competition is fair. Yes, people cheat, it’s human nature. If they can take advantage, they will take advantage.”

With 24 racehorses dying per week on racecourses across the United States, the horse racing industry’s “athletes” are not safe, and that statistic does not include every racehorse who dies in connection with the sport. Reporting is voluntary and deaths that occur during training are not commonly noted in the fatalities.

Further, the competition is not fair; not even close. Horse racing cannot be considered even remotely fair when racehorses are drugged with anything from simple baking soda to the dangerously powerful secretions of Asian frogs. With all of this out of control doping, how many bettors are swindled every time a horse race is gambled on? This is not only illegal, but also unconscionable.

It is a major roadblock to reform when members of the horse racing industry aim to convince the public that everything is a-okay when clearly it is anything but. Additionally, it is not just the casual fan who is interested in integrity. Those who make their living from horse racing are very much interested.

D. Wayne Lukas.  Image by Jamie Squire / GettyImages.
D. Wayne Lukas. Image by Jamie Squire / GettyImages.

In the same article celebrated trainer D. Wayne Lukas makes a more realistic statement.

“I think if you took the best public relations firm in New York and hired them, we would still have trouble overcoming the hole we are dug in,” Lukas said. “We have been liberal in so many areas. The fact is, that when there is a suspension, we have trouble enforcing it.”

The answers to restore horse racing seem clear. 1. Appoint a Commissioner over horse racing who is properly empowered to regulate it. 2. Arrest, prosecute and imprison racehorse dopers.

Lukas has something to say about item 1. In an article for Lukas states to writer Jerry Izenberger:

“We need somebody,” Lukas said, “who can bring about order and respect … somebody who can get the tracks together in a room and make them bang out scheduling.

“Somebody like a commissioner who can keep this sport on the front pages. Maybe somebody with the clout of, say, Peter Ueberroth (organizer of the ’84 Olympics in Los Angeles and former commissioner of baseball).”

As to item 2, it rarely happens, but it happens.

Trainer Darrel Delahoussaye was arrested following allegations or racehorse doping and charged with several misdemeanours and a handful of felonies. Two of the reported doping agents in the Delahoussaye case were “milkshakes” and snake venom.

Recently at least 30 horses tested positive in three States (with several others suspected but refusing to comment) for the illegal use of dermorphin, a performance-enhancing drug made from the secretion of tree frogs and has 40x the power of morphine.

How incredibly embarrassing and indicative of the sport’s decline that not a single trainer was formally charged and only a handful reportedly suspended, despite the fact that the use of dermorphin is considered to be one of horse racing’s most serious drug violations.

Edward J. Martin, president of Racing Commissioners International, a trade association for racing regulators, impotently declares :

“This is a tough issue. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. As soon as you call out dermorphin, they will try something else. That is the daily battle that goes on.”

That pretty much sums up the drug issue and a potent example of horse racing’s total failure to self-govern.

Silhouette of Racehorse and Rider.  Mark Lennihan / AP Image.
Silhouette of Racehorse and Rider. Mark Lennihan / AP Image.

No doubt, it would be a challenging task to find a Commissioner who could challenge the entrenched error necessary to reform and regulate horse racing, but it can and must be done. We say this not because we are fans of American horse racing, but because the horses used by them stand little chance of having their circumstances bettered without one.

2 thoughts on “Overall rule and radical reform not damage control required in horse racing”

  1. Thanks for your great article. You know many articles talk about how they can’t keep up with the cheating. In other words, Dermorphin now something else soon. That said, I bet your bottom dollar if they were being hauled out of the barns via HANDCUFFS and get suspended for LIFE then this culture of cheating would soon end. Past history supports these cheaters, gives them a slap on the wrist, and allows them to still train under the current rules! The racing industry and the government has been nothing more than lip service because, really, what the F*** has been done??? – NOTHING!


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