SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- As they do every summer, the powers that be in the racing game gathered here last weekend for the Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing. As is the case every summer, what happens in Saratoga stays in Saratoga, even in a summer such as this, when reform, which is to say medication reform, is foremost on a short agenda.
The anti-Lasix movement appears to have subsided. Much well-grounded support among horsemen and the scientific community has quelled the opposition.
There is no opposition to reform and standardization of rules, though making that happen in a disjointed environment is a daunting task. The Jockey Club proposes changes in withdrawal periods for commonly used, legal therapeutic medications that are perfectly reasonable -- 21 days for clenbuterol, for instance. Other substances, corticosteroids, in particular, beg for longer withdrawal periods in the interest of the safety of both horse and rider.
The anti-Lasix movement appears to have subsided. Much well-grounded support among horsemen and the scientific community has quelled the opposition. Bleeding is bad. Still, the administration of Lasix under regulatory supervision is absolutely necessary. Such a program, which confines the administration of Lasix on race day to veterinarians employed by the association, has worked for some time in New York and elsewhere and demands universal adoption.
But there are other issues pertaining to medication that the sport has failed to recognize let alone address.
Nothing is currently more popular and rare than transparency. Yet, racing is no less opaque than government and other criminal enterprises. A major move toward shedding light on the mysterious aspects of the sport hidden from public view would be identification of veterinarians who practice at the nation's racetracks. Disclosure -- on the program -- of every veterinarian who has treated a horse between starts, procedures performed and the medications administered would be the most radical move toward reform racing's leaders could possibly undertake.
In many states even the gelding of a horse is not disclosed to the public and nowhere are most surgical procedures made known. Yet, the sport is supported in the main by gamblers who are placed at a bleak informational disadvantage with the blessing of regulators.
Veterinarians as well as trainers should face the weight of responsibility for violations and suffer identical consequences. A positive should send both into suspension, another area in need of careful reconsideration. How many transgressions will regulators permit? How many Rick Dutrows can the game afford and still expect to be taken seriously?
Dutrow faces a life-time ban for a litany of violations in many states but continues to train horses while his lawyers make a mockery out of due process, the end of which is nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, a less tolerant industry would have rid itself of this man long ago. He is, at the moment, the seventh-leading trainer at the Saratoga meeting.
A positive for overage of a legal medication and one for an illegal, performance-enhancing substance are very different things
Ironically, it was an indiscreet admission by Dutrow, who stated matter-of-factly that Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and in preparation for the Belmont Stakes of 2008, was administered anabolic steroids that led to the only meaningful mediation reform in the last 50 years. This surprised no one and such substances were at the time legal if widely abused in racing but the resultant furor led individual states to ban anabolic steroids. So, in a way unintended, Dutrow has done a service to the sport -- and the breed -- even while thumbing his nose at regulators rendered impotent by the legal process.
Reform, however, should not be the serendipitous result of indiscretion.
A positive for overage of a legal medication and one for an illegal, performance-enhancing substance are very different things and while repeated transgressions of the first type should result in progressively longer suspensions and - after three - a lifetime ban. The second demands that the sport impose a zero-tolerance posture. One strike and you're out.
No trainer convicted in the recent rash of positive tests for dermorphin -- a painkiller several times more potent than morphine -- should ever again be issued a license to train horses anywhere in the United States. At the moment, the punishment in no way fits the crime.
What racing really lacks is effective leadership; people of vision positioned to create order and consensus from chaos. The risk of delay is inevitable irrelevance, which is becoming more a possibility as time goes on with the status remaining quo.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.