Lance Armstrong is generally considered to be the greatest cyclist of all time and is certainly the most courageous. After overcoming testicular cancer, he won cycling’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, the Tour de France, seven times. Additionally, Armstrong is widely admired for his prolific fund-raising on behalf of cancer research.

Now his personal image and that of his sport are tarnished by a CBS television expose and a federal grand jury investigation pertaining to performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. Horse racing take note, as there are lessons to be learned.

The CBS program “60 Minutes” recently telecast an interview with Tyler Hamilton–a 2004 Olympic gold medalist in cycling and former member of the prestigious U. S. Postal Service team that starred Armstrong. Hamilton alleged that Armstrong and his teammates used illegal performance-enhancing drugs in competition, although Armstrong has steadfastly denied the accusations. Hamilton and other members of the Postal Service team are providing testimony to a federal grand jury.

Hamilton described a training regimen in which team doctors routinely supplied the cyclists with testosterone pills, human growth hormone, and the blood-booster erythropoietin or EPO, whose code word was “Poe” or “Edgar Allen Poe.” Hamilton also told of his team’s use of blood doping via transfusions. He remarked on the pervasive use of drugs in world-class cycling: “… there’s a lot of other cheats and liars out there, too, who’ve gotten away with it. It’s not just Lance, you know? I mean, with a little luck, I’d still be out there today being a cheat and liar.”

In the “60 Minutes” report, Hamilton made an observation that could apply to the current quarrelsome public dispute about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing: “I feel bad that I had to go here (CBS) and do this. But I think at end of the day, like I said, long term, the sport’s going to be better for it.”

Any enhancement of horse racing’s image in North America must begin with the comprehensive banishment of all medications on race-day and the imposition of unforgiving penalties for repeat violators of the policy. But even with strict testing, some cases will go undetected because drug testing is imperfect. World champion track star Marion Jones never tested positive and adamantly denied doping, yet she confessed in 2007 and served six months prison time for lying to federal investigators. To expel racing’s drug demon, the vast majority of racehorse owners, who have the best interests of racing at heart, need to shun the few bad apples that flout the rules and discredit the sport.

Barry Irwin, in commenting to the Blood-Horse about the German-bred dam of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, said: “In Germany, you are not allowed to breed a mare that has ever raced on drugs, Lasix, Bute, nothing. So when you buy stock from there, you know you’re getting something good.” Regaining the same reputation for North American bloodstock must be a high priority.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business


  1. Graeme Beaton says

    As usual, Bill, a voice of sanity!