North American horse racing is periodically embarrassed and tainted by doping incidents, with the most famous being the disqualification of Dancer’s Image in the 1968 Kentucky Derby and the latest publicity black-eye taking place at Penn National Race Course.

Now another sporting event has been dogged by medication cheating, the 2017 Iditarod.  This famous race requires sled dogs and their mushers and support personnel to traverse the 975 mile isolated and forbidding terrain between Anchorage and Nome Alaska while encountering bitterly cold conditions and blizzards.

For the first time since Iditarod authorities began drug-testing of dogs in 1994, dogs on one of the teams tested positive for a banned substance, Tramadol, a narcotic-like pain reliever.  However, the team was not penalized because the ruling body, the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors, said it could not prove that the intent was to improve the dogs’ performance.

The Committee responded on October 6, 2017 by changing its policies regarding positive drug tests.  The new rule is similar to the ultimate-insurer standard for trainers in horse racing:  mushers are held accountable for positives.  Unlike horse racing, an exception is granted to mushers if they can prove their innocence.

The updated policy bans 12 substances and Rule 39 states in part: “No other drugs or other artificial means may be used to drive a dog or cause a dog to perform or attempt to perform beyond its natural ability.”

As long as there are monetary incentives to administer performance-enhancing drugs to humans and animals in competition, some people will choose to flout the rules and, in so doing, tarnish the image of their own sports.  With adequate attention to due process for the accused, the answer is strict oversight and enforcement.  North American horse racing has yet to have reached this state of affairs.

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