Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Of Regulations, Champagne Cocktails and Saratoga Dreams

Saratoga Springs is a place of dreams. I know. I met my wife there the day Spit Curl won the Alabama Stakes.

We were married on the closest corresponding dark Tuesday three years later. The recently departed Judge Larry LaBelle performed the ceremony at The Big Red Spring on the grounds of Saratoga Race Course.

Several media members missed the ceremony, though only steps away in the press box. That was the day the New York State Racing and Wagering Board announced that Lashkari’s Breeders’ Cup positive for etorphine, elephant juice, was overturned.

It can happen if your name is the Aga Kahn, but not if it’s Rick Dutrow.

At the July 16, meeting of the New York State Gaming Commission, formerly the NYSRWB, the commission denied Dutrow’s appeal to revisit the 10-year ban handed down by the NYSRWB.

Also at that meeting, the NYSGC unanimously approved passage of a regulation proposed by Association of Racing Commissioners International to support the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium’s model rule that it is supposed to mimic the World Anti-Doping Agency rule. The exception is Thoroughbred racing’s ever-present elephant in the room – Lasix.

The ARCI promoted model rule of the RMTC, adopted by NYSGC was lauded as a wide-ranging one that will propel Thoroughbred racing forward, but it has a huge loophole. The original anti-doping rules prohibits Lasix.

However, the rule adopted by the NYSGC makes an exemption for use of Lasix.

ARCI is a not-for-profit trade association with no regulatory authority. Its members individually possess regulatory authority within their jurisdictions. Ron Ochrym, Director of the Division of Horse Racing for the NYSGC, is the ARCI member representing New York. He is solely responsible for recommending the passage of this hollowed-out regulation.

Major League Baseball recently suspended Robinson Cano when he tested positive for Lasix. MLB considers Lasix to be a performance enhancing drug and, in accordance with WADA and the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a masking agent. Thoroughbred horseracing’s leaders say it is only for bleeders. Wink-wink.

Major League sports in the US also winked at PEDs until outside pressure became too great and forced change. The time is now for Thoroughbred racing to be pressured to do the same.

At the heart of USADA’s program is out of competition testing. Nearly two-thirds of USADA’s drug tests are out of competition. In the Thoroughbred industry, it’s about 1 percent.

Why omit Lasix and limit out of competition testing? Why have there been very few positive OCC tests? WADA and USADA are serious about catching cheaters. Apparently, the Thoroughbred industry is not as enthusiastic about cleaning up its act and the damaging message it sends.

A horse that bleeds is unsound for racing purposes and deserves the time necessary for it to heal. Lasix allows them to do what they should not be asked to do. Worse, Lasix also covers up many other drugs.

Thoroughbred veterinarians as a group are conspicuously quiet on the subject. One would posit that the lack of comment indicates complicity. One exception is Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine assigned full time to the California Horse Racing Board.

Arthur accused horsemen of voicing objections strictly as a way to avoid implementing out of competition testing at a meeting of the CHRB on June 21. In part, his written statement: “In reality, horse racing does not have a robust anti-doping program. And this should be clear to everyone: Races are won in training. That is true in human sport; it is true in horse racing. Just as in human sport, we need to pay more attention to PEDs being used in training and we can only do that by OOCT.”

Ed Martin, president of the ARCI, appeared to perjure himself before the House of Representatives subcommittee on June 22, when he testified at the hearing for H.R. 2651, the Horseracing Integrity Act. Martin said that drug regulations are uniform throughout all racing jurisdictions in the US.

Everyone, including Martin, knows that’s not true. Ask Graham Motion about that. Ask Bill Mott about testing procedures.

Martin was quickly called out by those in the industry he is supposed to represent. Most vocal was Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, which, in a lengthy letter to Chairman Bob Latta and Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky of the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, skillfully and comprehensively tore down Martin’s assertions, one by one.

The letter, signed by Stuart Janney, Chairman of the Jockey Club and Craig Favel, president of Breeders’ Cup Ltd., was complete with testimonial evidence of studies that prove Lasix is unnecessary for most bleeders. It also contained charts indicating the different medication regulations and withdrawal times from each of the 33 states that currently govern live Thoroughbred racing.

Listed below are three significant points included in the letter.

• “There is no association between EIPH (bleeding) grades 0, 1, 2 and 3 and long-term racing performance of Thoroughbred racehorses” (Sullivan, S. L., Anderson, G. A., Morley, P. S., & Hinchcliff, K. W., 2014).

• In a study of 152 Thoroughbreds, two of them had an EIPH score of four, the most severe grade. In other words, 150 of 152 horses had EIPH scores of three or below, supporting the previous point that the vast majority of horses race and enjoy long and productive careers on the racetrack without Lasix (Hinchcliff, K. W., Morley, P. S., & Guthrie, A. J., 2009).

• Horses that received Lasix ran 3 to 5.5 lengths faster than horses that did not (Gross D.K., Morley P.S., Hinchcliff K.W., & Wittum T.E., 1999).

Why adopt such a rule? It is a divertive attempt by RMTC, ARCI and the NYSGC to appear to have done something, when, in fact, it has exposed these groups for putting a spin on what should be real regulation and not capitulation to horsemen’s groups.

In truth, Martin opposes the possibility of USADA’s control because it will render meaningless ARCI and RMTC. The Jockey Club supports it because it lets those that are supposed to be stewards of this game off the hook for its inability to regulate itself.

USADA can walk into someone’s abode or hotel room at 3am and test. In New York, according to Martin Panza, The Senior Vice President of Racing Operations of the New York Racing Association, a request is made of a trainer to bring a horse in to perform an out of competition test.

The trainer has 24 hours in which to comply. If the trainer does not, the horse is ruled off for six months. So the owner pays and the trainer and vet are off the hook. Besides, is that the spirit for which out of competition testing was created in the first place?

A Lasix ban will never happen because the majority of horsemen would rather train with needles instead of horsemanship. And in the end they control simulcasting, the industry’s lifeblood and main source of revenue.

Just as bettors yearn for a major score, some jockeys, trainers, and vets rise early to engineer a score. My late friend and colleague, Paul Moran, always thought the barn list at Saratoga should be accompanied by a vets list.

Indeed, the name of the attending veterinarian should be listed in the official program. Indeed, they are an invaluable part of the equipment. Otherwise, why would there be a preponderance of barn changes that has become so prevalent in the modern game?
So don’t let the stewards of racing off the hook just because you are having a good time at Saratoga. Racing counts on eye-candied distractions like Saratoga to keep the customer eyes off the industry's inaction. The new Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity has taken an important step in the right direction.

Written by Mark Berner

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