John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


GUEST EDITORIAL: Stop Doping at the Sales


By Carlo Vaccarezza

Carlo Vaccarrezza came to national prominence as the owner of Grade 1-winning turf specialist Little Mike. Since then, Vaccarezza has taken out his trainer's as has enjoyed some success on the Florida circuit with a limited amount of starters. Vaccarezza felt it was important to share this message with the HorseRaceInsider audience. It's a side of the sport that also needs a light shined on it in these trying days for the sport.

At the recent 62nd Annual Jockey Club Roundtable was featured an NFL executive's marketing tips amid myriad prepared statements, slide shows and a statistic-laden agenda that was predicated by a frenzy of national posturing by various horse racing industry interests--all with lengthy statements on the race-day medication debate, presumably to influence an ultimate outcome one way or another.

All the rhetoric leaves many Thoroughbred owners, trainers and would-be horse racing participants pondering the elephant juice in the room: The fact that race-day medication has even become an issue is merely a manifestation of its root cause: sales ring doping.

Trackside bleeders and breakdowns are just a symptom of this "evil at the bottom."

Before young Thoroughbreds even start competition, most who make it to the sales pavilions are chronically bulked up on steroids, which, with long-term deleterious effects, mask both injuries and physical inferiority--mostly from unsuspecting buyers--but often even from experienced eyes.

By the time a high-priced colt or filly goes to its new home, it may have already literally and shockingly deflated as a result of its withdrawal from an assortment of potent chemicals designed to make it appear more like a linebacker than a still-developing baby horse.

Now, with the equine equivalent of a crack baby in the barn and an unscrupulous pinhooker already having absconded with his or her profit, the trainer is left with a disenfranchised owner who may have just gotten his first taste of Thoroughbred racing's dirtiest and most unspoken secrets.

Given the pressure of the owner's investment and risk of being the odd one out on this perverse playing field, what choice does a trainer often have but to administer the drugs on which a horse has performed all along?

At the end of the day, the former sales ring star more often than not has been worthless all along, leaving the new owner with not only a steep financial loss, but the repugnant task of having to dispose of an innocent live creature whose man-made rubber legs aren't good for much of anything at all anymore.

Not exactly a healthy prescription for attracting and keeping new investors, fans and interest into a sport struggling for market share, much less trying to grow field size--an urgent goal set forth by the recent Roundtable speakers.

Some years ago, the American Association of Equine Practitioners agreed to completely abolish rampant sales ring use of anabolic steroids--a class of drugs that has the potential to completely ruin the Thoroughbred breed. But Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton cried foul, among others. Today, sales companies allow the medication, with no threshold levels prescribed for the typical 45-day withdrawal.

Clenbuterol, also used chronically with corticosteroids to prepare a horse for the sales ring, has greatly contributed to the unsoundness of juvenile Thoroughbreds in training by bulking up a fragile young animal to levels far beyond the capacity of its own joints. While the horse appears outwardly magnificent, its doom has been sealed by its bruised bones teetering on barely-formed, but already deteriorating joints.

The circular firing squad argument over race-day medication has certainly whipped the horse racing industry into a frenzy, spilling its dirty laundry into the mainstream public's growing cognizance of animal welfare.

In reality, until efforts are focused on sales ring doping as the root problem, a consensus on race-day medication will never come.

But, by curing this single evil, the horse racing industry could accomplish this confluence of goals: Attract new owners, protect their investment, grow field size, and restore horses' health and integrity.

Given this logic, our industry stakeholders from top to bottom must re-evaluate and refocus the race-day medication debate without further delay.

Until proper regulation is established, we need the support of horsemen and the racing community--especially buyers, owners and trainers--to add your name to our effort by acting on the above message so that we can make a strong statement that sales ring doping by unscrupulous pinhookers cannot, and will not, destroy our wonderful sport of kings.

Written by John Pricci

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