Friday, July 13, 2012
By BRENDAN O'MEARA / @Brendan O'Meara
The Senate hearings that dealt with race day medications brought up many valid points, and even some language fit for Bourbon Street. But one thing is clear, the testimony from the parties involved want to see the use of drugs on race day gone. The problem is akin to our ever-expanding universe: it started a long time ago and might be impossible to reverse.
Take Team Valor president Barry Irwin. He said, “Horse racing is a sport. It began when an owner thought his horse was faster than another fellow’s. To settle it, a race was held. It came to pass that if these contests were sufficiently appealing, interest could be generated from the public, which would attend and bet on the outcome. If enough contests were arranged, a racing association could be formed to regularly offer races. Benefits to the public included new jobs and taxes that could be levied by governments. In order for governments to justify taxing bets on races, states set up commissions to safeguard the integrity of the sport. This is the basis of racing as we know it today.”
It is no longer enough to see that capital ‘L’ in the past performances. That is such a minor disclosure that it is damn near insulting to the bettor. Somewhere Jeff Mullins is snickering. Irwin’s Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and trumpeted how AK’s mama raced medication free, that to have a horse racing clean and to win such a prestigious race is great for the game and the breed. He's right.
“It is unfair for states,” Irwin said, “that take a tough approach to drug rules to suffer because rival or neighboring states ease their rules in order to get trainers to send horses their way. I live in Kentucky, the Thoroughbred racing and breeding capital of America, and our state recently passed a rule that will eliminate race day drugs. Kentucky figures to lose business because it took a progressive stance. It is unfair for Kentucky to lose business and revenue for doing the right thing. And it is outrageous for states and racetracks that will allow drug use to prosper.”
Here’s a revelation. Ready for it? Money is powerful. Money moves. Money makes decisions for people. If the sport has intentions of cleaning up its use of race day medications—Lasix, bute, frogs—why not award more money to the connections who race completely clean, win or lose? If people don’t care enough not to dope their horses because of the big picture, over arching issues of the positive ripple for the game and breed, then start lining the pockets of those connections who are cleaner than an Olympic athlete. Trainers can't feel like they have to give their horses Lasix on the basis that everybody else is, so they have to keep pace.
Or, since cheaters cheat, perhaps the winner will be a lot like what Charlie Pierce said about the baseball home run derby, “… we can all concentrate on the real All-Star traditions, like trying to figure out which Home Run Derby competitor has the most talented pharmacist.”