On Monday, March 9, 2020, Benjamin Weiser and Joe Drape, reporting for the New York Times, broke the story that federal prosecutors had taken action “against more than two dozen racehorse trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors in a wide-ranging series of indictments that laid out a corrupt scheme to secretly dope horses and cheat the betting public in what has become a $100 billion global industry”.
We visited the Paulick Report to read what their followers’ reactions are to the above news. Their comments were pretty predictable, including not surprisingly more and stronger calls to pass the the latest version of the Horseracing Integrity Act or H.R. 1754. The bill’s chief aim it seems is to bring all of American horse racing under one great big anti-doping umbrella. It currently has 244 cosponsors.
But let’s get to the good part. Barry Irwin. Mr. Irwin by the way is the owner of the Thoroughbred horse racing stable of Team Valor International in Lake Worth, Florida, and owner/breeder of the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom.
We quote liberally from Irwin’s May 10, 2020 article, “Irwin States That Nearly All Horse Racing Institutions Lack Will To Clean Up Sport“. To say they lack “will” may be the understatement of the century. Never mind. Keep reading.
In his opening paragraph, Irwin writes:
Monday’s initiative to go after cheaters in horse racing starkly portrays the dilemma our industry faces. The initiative taken by the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a victory for jurisprudence and a failure of every state in America, its regulators, racing boards, investigators, Thoroughbred racetracks and rank-and-file members of racing who stood idly by and allowed cheating on a mass scale at the very highest level of the sport to go unchecked.
Racing’s institutions, save one, all failed in their mandates to ensure the integrity of our product because of a lack of will and skill.
The alphabet groups and Thoroughbred racetracks that support the status quo allowed this nonsense to be fostered, nurtured and come into fruition. The horsemen’s groups that protected their worst elements under the misguided notion that one bad egg would tarnish them all, should be hanging their heads in shame today.”
More about “will” by Irvin:
So why did the Feds achieve success where states had failed? The most obvious answer is that failure was a result of a lack of will. But there are at least a couple of racetracks that tried to catch the indicted pair and they failed.”
We conclude with the following remarks by Irwin, which brings us back to the Horseracing Integrity Act. He almost convinces us.
The biggest winner of all Monday was the Horseracing Integrity Act—the legislation that is currently working its way through Congress; because as racing has now shown itself to be completely incapable of policing itself, the proposed bill is the lone vehicle designed to correct the problem that was identified this week by the Justice Department.
And with the United States Anti-Doping Agency on board, using the correct tests and a dedicated investigatory task force, it is the only hope to cleanse our sport and ensure the future integrity of the product.”
Even with an anti-doping agency looking over U.S. horse racing’s shoulder, it will not stop the doping of racehorses. The most it will do is rein it in, perhaps quite a bit comparatively speaking . . . at first.
To illustrate this point, let’s look at another horse racing nation who has an anti-doping program — Australia. Australian horse racing feels they are successful in — if not eliminating racehorse doping — then at least keeping it somewhat under control.
Look at the list of drugs Australian racehorses typically test positive for:
Anabolic steroids, narcotic analgesics, caffeine (now easily detected), beta blockers, butazolidin, “milkshakes” (bicarbs tubed into a horse’s stomach) and something called “blue magic”, just to name a few. Ring a bell?
The have their exotic drugs of course. How about Etorphine, or elephant juice. What? It’s a tranquiliser for large animals such as elephants, and reportedly can be a most powerful stimulant if applied correctly to horses.
Then there’s the legendary super mare Winx. Winx won a record 33rd races in a row, ending her career with a third successive Queen Elizabeth stakes and retiring with a four-year unbeaten streak.
She didn’t do it simply on water, hay and oats. One wouldn’t expect a superstar athlete of any kind to. But . . . .
Winx tested positive for cocaine just days after winning her 13th race in a row. Only four days after delivering a performance of sheer dominance to win first place at the 2016 Cox Plate, Winx is believed to have tested positive to “party drugs, for a second time“. “Party drugs” is likely a euphemistic term for cocaine. Similar reports, especially cocaine treatments, dogged her throughout her career.
In light of the above, perhaps testing racehorses for “doping” is better seen as a band aid instead of a cure. Perhaps there is no cure for racehorse doping, and we should not expect one.