Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, told horseracing regulators at the recent 2017 ARCI Conference on Integrity and Equine Welfare that the United States Anti-Doping Agency should bid on future drug-testing contracts.

In other words, if the Thoroughbred industry wants to get serious about getting a trusted, outside agency to monitor the use of medication, legal and otherwise, and to what extent violations exist, that agency--in this case the USADA--must pay for the privilege?

In many of the 38 states where parimutuel wagering on horses is sanctioned, the answer to testing has been to opt for the lowest cost. In the majority of cases, the industry has gotten what it paid for.

But is this the approach racing really wants to take, hire testing labs based on the lowest-cost bids? If the industry insists on that, how seriously can we believe their goal is a truly level playing field for all?

Not only do the leaders of ARCI and racing commissions throughout the US permit drug use, the penalties it enacts against violators often are far too lenient. Unless, of course, it has political points to score or agendas to fill.

In Martin’s case there is documentation via an email trail from him to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission whereby he insinuated himself into the Rick Dutrow case, resulting in a politically motivated 10-year suspension based on false testimony from a New York State investigator. But that’s a story for another day.

When it comes to drug use, it matters which organization would perform testing, at least and until there is sufficient industry demand to eliminate the use of race-day medication in the sport, period.

It has been well documented that the USADA has been successful in sports where its leaders were serious about ending drug violations. But horseracing not only embraces the use of permitted medication, it allows it on raceday.

Legal medication is a necessary good. What is not good are conflicting withdrawal thresholds that too often has resulted in accidental, unintended overages because horses, like people, react to medication differently based on their own body chemistry.

“I don’t believe USADA has bid on any drug-testing contract from any commission. I do know, when I read about them doing boxing or mixed martial arts, that they apparently have done work for other state agencies that regulate professional sports,” Martin said, ignoring the fact that those sports welcomed USADA oversight on testing.

Before making statements, Martin should know what is going on and state the facts, not under-researched beliefs about the USADA and drug testing in Thoroughbred racing, even in today’s “post-facts” environment.

Martin clearly missed the point that other sports wished to eliminate all drug use. The USADA uses out-of-competition testing extensively while horseracing does not. Out-of-competition testing is the best way to catch cheaters; unawares.

It is the nature of things that research and development people will always stay ahead of the drug-testing curve; it’s the character of progress. But one must start somewhere. At the least, out-of-competition testing and frozen samples is a deterrent with high potential.

The point of freezing samples was to allow technology to catch up with creative pharmacology. Though science has made tremendous advances in the last five decades since blood samples were first frozen, never has a positive finding been made public.

Instead, the ARCI’s leader can only suggest to what he thinks will improve internal testing procedures; progress marked in inches, not yards--and then his organization has the temerity to congratulate itself for the all-too-slow progress that’s been made.

The ARCI’s recent shuffling of the points system for repeat offenders is sophomoric. It does little to deter drug use and allows offenders and repeat offenders to get off with small fines and short suspensions, except when message-sending is politically expedient.

Martin concludes that “collectively we take a tremendous amount of heat and usually take heat from people who have absolutely no idea of some of the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of running a government agency, to try to police a sport with tremendous moving parts.”

Thoroughbred racing has traditionally downplayed drug violations to avoid embarrassment, but the USADA is not concerned with the optics. If the USADA takes over drug testing, the embarrassment will be profound. That may be the real deterrent to independent oversight.

There’s no question that this task is very difficult, as the past two decades have shown. And it’s exacerbated by the fact there are 38 state-houses to deal with.

The problem is that Mr. Martin’s political machinations serve two masters when it comes to drug regulation: The regulators, and the regulated.

I shudder to think that this might have been the intent all along.

BITS AND BYTES


Belmont Park Opens Friday: The New York Racing Association has a long list of promotions to bring in customers to the cavernous facility. But until NYRA uses sanity in pricing, fans will stay home.

Sports fans in New York support a number of stadiums, arenas and racetracks. With the exception of the racetracks, other sports are seasonal and have limited opportunities to cash in.

Resultantly, prices are high for parking, admission, seating and concessions. It can easily cost a couple $500 to go to a live sporting event. However, those opportunities are limited by the number of games played. Conversely, racetrack are open nearly 300 days per year.

Fans can expect to spend over $30 for a burger, fries and a beer at sporting events in New York. That may be OK for fans that go to a couple of games each season, but not racing fans that may go to the track 50 times or more each year.

NYRA cannot afford to price itself out of sports market and expect racing fans to come out on a regular basis. These days it is too easy, and much cheaper, to play the races from home. NYRA should use pricing as a weapon vs. competition, not customers.

Islanders Arena:
The National Hockey League announced last week that the New York Islanders are indeed looking to leave Barclays Center in Brooklyn and move back to Long Island.

The Islanders will play in a new arena to be built at Belmont Park, as reported by HRI exclusively on February 7.

Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment is the company that runs Barclays and recently refurbished the Nassau Coliseum where the Islanders played from 1972 to 2105.

BSE has been under fire from Long Island residents and politicians for refurbishing the coliseum and not rebuilding it. BSE merely put lipstick on a pig and graded it a 10.

In actuality, BSE made a concerted effort to turn the Coliseum into a minor league arena that would keep the Isles locked into Barclays for 25 years. That tack backfired.

The Islanders will leave Brooklyn and will not be permitted by the NHL to return to the Coliseum because the league will not allow the Islanders’ new owners to be put in the same bad financial position as the old owners.

New York State is currently finalizing a Request for Proposal, according to Amy Varghese, spokesperson for the Empire State Development Corp. The RFP could include as much as 36 acres for the arena, a hotel, a full-time, year-round Long Island Rail Road terminal and plans for a winterized racetrack at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, NY, April 25, 2017