Archives for July 2012


The Jockey Club’s 60th Annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing, on August 12th, will have Travis T. Tygart as its keynote speaker. Mr. Tygart is the chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which is the national anti-doping organization for the Olympic movement in the United States. In 2000, the U. S. Congress recognized UASADA as the “official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sport…”

The Jockey Club states that Mr. Tygart “will share insights on the mission, policies, and practices employed by the USADA and the Partnership for Clean Competition to combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs…”

Mr. Tygart’s topic is certainly timely: the Olympic games are underway in London and horse racing in the United States is undergoing scrutiny and criticism for what many—from inside and outside the racing industry– have alleged is permissive drug policy.

The upcoming Tygart speech brought to mind some research that was recently conducted by ESPN The Magazine. ESPN explained:

“When the Team USA Media Summit was held in May (2012), 100-plus London hopefuls landed in Dallas. So did our Confidential team. Promising anonymity in exchange for intel, we spoke with 30 women who have their sights set on the Summer games…and asked them about everything from terrorism to sexual harassment by coaches.”

One of the questions was as follows. “True/False: Olympic athletes have figured out how to beat the drug-testing system.”

ESPN reported the results: “…55.6% think that, yes, Olympians have figured out ways to outsmart the tests. Even those who responded false sound as if they’re trying to convince themselves to believe. ‘I admit that I am probably being naïve. But I have to tell myself that, or else my whole career, the whole idea of the Olympics, seems like a waste of time.’”

While this is a small sample and is confined to United States women athletes, the results are eye-opening because the answers came from exceptional athletes, who have an insider’s view of what goes on in their various sports.

Whether it is the Olympics or horse racing, the task of keeping drugs from altering the outcomes of competitive events is increasingly difficult. Where money and fame are involved, people will look for ways to game the system, and human ingenuity often enables them to do so by staying a step ahead of the regulators, especially via advancements in pharmaceuticals.

The Jockey Club Round Table audience may be listening to a gentleman whose anti-doping organization cannot effectively police its own competitions.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business


American horse racing is increasingly admonished in the mainstream media over legal and illicit drugs. The impression conveyed to the public during the recent Triple Crown season was that the sport is permissive.

But how does horse racing really stack up against the foremost U. S. professional sports leagues on the twin elements of drug policy–testing and meting out of sanctions for transgressions?

Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have adopted “reasonable cause” testing policies, whereby a player can be checked at any time if someone in authority infers he may be using a forbidden drug. The National Football League’s collective bargaining agreement limits to four the number of times a player can be tested annually and permits game-day testing of performance-enhancing drugs but not recreational drugs. The National Hockey League states “Every player will be subject to two ‘no-notice’ tests every year…”

When benchmarked against the forgoing drug-testing practices, horse racing’s standards and procedures are very rigorous. The Association of Racing Commissioners International accurately states: “Horse racing’s anti-doping program tests for more substances at deeper levels than any other professional sport”–and the organization provides data to back up its claim. In addition, some game-day medications that are allowed in the professional sports leagues are verboten in horse racing.

While the American racing industry is a cut above other sports on drug testing, it is arguably worse when it comes to enforcing uniform and timely penalties for drug positives, especially for flagrant offenders. The punitive facet of drug policy is inhibited by multiple racing jurisdictions and often-protracted appeals processes that enable habitual offenders to continue to sully the sport’s image.

Professional sports leagues have quantified the consequences for drug-policy offences that are generally harsher than in horse racing. Measures have become more severe in recent years due to scandals over alleged and proven substance abuse by some superstars.

To illustrate, In MLB, a player’s fourth conviction for the use of a prohibited substance has a minimum two-year suspension and a third positive result for steroids carries a lifetime ban. However, such sentences typically have loopholes. For instance, the NHL allows a banned player to appeal a supposedly permanent exile once two years’ time has passed.

Horse racing is held to a high standard on drugs for two entirely different and valid reasons: bettors are entitled to fairly decided outcomes and the welfare of equine athletes depends on the care provided by their handlers.

Drug-related news items that damage racing’s standing with the public and lessen its commercial appeal arise largely from the sport’s apparent leniency towards serial violators of regulations and the prolonged infighting over the race-day use of furosemide. Significant progress on these fronts would greatly diminish the notoriety that detractors seize upon to condemn the sport.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.


The most sordid scandal in the history of collegiate sports resulted today in the NCAA imposing sanctions for the crimes of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and the documented long-time cover-up by University officials. The late head coach Joe Paterno went, in less than a year, from being one of the all-time most respected coaches in collegiate athletics to one of the least respected.

I was staying at the Nittany Lion Inn in 1997 and recall Coach Paterno and entourage coming through the lobby. Paterno took the time to stop and chat with well wishers. He even wrote a note to a Nittany Lion Inn employee’s aunt, who was ill. Stories like these were long associated with Paterno and he had a reputation for running an academically honest football program. Very sad, indeed, that this reputation is erased.

The NCAA has evidently had enough of the shenanigans in big-time collegiate football and basketball. While nothing remotely compares with the child abuse and cover-up that went on at Penn State, the NCAA has fired a warning shot to other schools. The Penn State tragedy may be the tipping point that serves to clean up the mess that is top-level collegiate football and basketball, where many student-athletes are that in name only. Currently, as long as the coach wins, his sins are overlooked by university boards of trustees and presidents and alumni. Penn State’s football program had gross revenues of $60 million in 2012 and that kind of money usually trumps ethical considerations. (The fine levied against Penn State by the NCAA is $60 million and that is to go to combat child abuse.)

On a much larger and far more important scale than collegiate sports, world society has also reached a tipping point in terms of self control and fiscal responsibility. The governments of Greece, Spain, Italy, the United States, et al. have incurred so much debt–and overpromised so much to so many people—that something significant has to be done now to control spending, if the future is to be preserved for generations to come.

The problems in horse racing are inconsequential when contrasted with those plaguing the rest of the world, but if you happen to be involved in the sport they are very consequential. Racing is also at a tipping point: the public will no longer tolerate an industry in which rogue trainers repeatedly drug their horses; racing jurisdictions give slaps on the wrist to rules violators; owners ship or sell their horses to slaughter; and owners and trainers send out horses with severe physical issues to race, thereby enabling breakdowns and jockey injuries.

A tipping point can go either way, for better or worse. In the case of the U. S. government, collegiate athletics, and horse racing, the future is in the hands of the people involved. The constituents of all of these must demand better…or suffer the consequences.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business