Cross-posted from the New York Times
Jump to source article >>
WRITTEN BY JOE DRAPE
The movement to restrict drugs and make the sport more humane to both the human and equine athletes has caught some wind. It took congressional hearings and national shaming, but state after state has followed the lead of New York, Maryland and several mid-Atlantic states and tightened rules and demanded better testing.
But no one has to look far to see how badly the sport is ailing. Look southwest to Hollywood Park, where one of the most beautiful tracks in the world is closing at year’s end.
Or look at Santa Anita on Friday and Saturday, when one of the smallest contingents (16) of European horses in Breeders’ Cup history will compete.
This was the year the Breeders’ Cup was supposed to ban the race-day medication furosemide, sold as Lasix, in all of its races to get American racing in step with the rest of the world. The 2-year old races were run without it last year and will be again this year.
But horsemen, led by the Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and some of his prominent owners, threatened lawsuits and hinted at a boycott, which forced the Breeders’ Cup to abandon the wider plan.
Last year, a New York Times investigation identified the nation’s most dangerous racetracks; showed how a pervasive drug culture put horses and riders at risk; and found that 24 horses a week die at America’s tracks, a rate greater than in countries where drug use is severely restricted.
But of the top 20 trainers in the United States by purses won this year, only one — Graham Motion — has never been cited for a drug violation. Nearly all have horses competing here, and some have run afoul of the rules far more frequently than others.
Baffert averages one drug violation every 545 starts, and Doug O’Neill averages one every 640. Both have won the Kentucky Derby — Baffert three times.
In May, Shug McGaughey won his first Derby with Orb. He has one medication violation in his Hall of Fame career of 8,109 starts, according to records compiled from the Association of Racing Commissioners International and entered in a database.
There’s also a feeling of uneasiness here as horsemen wait for the California Horse Racing Board to release the results of an inquiry into the acute deaths of dozens of horses. Among them, over a 16-month period, were seven belonging to Baffert.
“I know I did nothing wrong,” Baffert said. “My barn did nothing wrong. The C.H.R.B. has to explain it. I can’t explain it.” Read full report >>
PLEASE NOTE: Because a trainer is not cited for drug violations does not mean they do not use drugs routine to US horse racing which are heavy compared to other racing nations that ban many of them. — Editor.