The NBC-TV announcers on the February 5 Super Bowl 2012 pregame show were discussing the injury status of New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski , who had been hampered by a high-ankle sprain. Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, an on-air analyst, matter-of-factly said that Gronkowski would not get a “shot” until right before the start of the game, so that the pain-suppressing effect would not wear off too soon.

Dungy’s observation did not provoke noticeable concern, much less outrage, in the media or on fan websites. One newspaper reported after the game that Gronkowski may need off-season surgery.

Fast forward three months to the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, where NBC-TV will be covering the Kentucky Derby. Imagine if NBC anchor Bob Costas were to inform viewers that a leading contender with a touch of lameness will receive a nerve block shortly before the walkover from the barn area to the paddock.

What’s more, to add fuel to the fire, suppose that the colt’s trainer of record has a checkered past when it comes to medication violations. What would be the fallout?

The presumption here is that critics in the general media and elsewhere would be quick to cite the nerve block as the latest high-profile case-in-point of how racehorses are treated by a number of callous owners and rogue trainers who care more about winning than about the welfare of their charges.

The distinction between the use of game-day drugs in big-time college and professional sports and the administration of legal race-day medication like Salix in horse racing is that human athletes can refuse the treatment, whereas equine athletes have no option. Thus emotions over medication are far more combustible in horse racing.

Horse racing is held to a higher standard of integrity than most other sports, ostensibly because gambling dollars support racing and bettors deserve the most honest product that can be delivered. But the more visceral reason is that racehorses cannot object to their quality of care, and any race-day medication is widely perceived by the public, correctly or not, to be detrimental.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

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