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Tuesday, May 01, 2012


The Fastest Two Distractions in Sports


SARATOGA SPRINGS, MAY 1, 2012—It has taken a very long time for racing’s problems to reach this stage and one thing is certain: It will take a whole lot longer than two minutes to figure the whole thing out.

Sometime late Wednesday afternoon, post positions for Kentucky Derby 138, one of the deepest and most contentious fields assembled in the modern era will be drawn and one can look at this event in one of two ways:

The timing could not have been better; the timing could not have been worse.

Two days before the post draw, and after the last four Derby horses had had their last meaningful workout for the big day, the New York Times published another installment in their series on horse racing’s use of medication, legal and otherwise.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, some of Thoroughbred racing’s most recognized names, including the owners of Kentucky Derby-winning Barbaro, a prominent veterinarian, and a retired Hall of Fame jockey, said in a Congressional hearing that the use of medication, legal and otherwise, was widespread and crippling the sport.

The installment “Big Purses, Sore Horses and Death” published Monday of Derby week was one of two articles that devastated the industry. The other, entitled “State Report Says Racing Association Knowingly Withheld Millions,” informed that a new state report, having e-mail documentation, contradicted a prior statement made by New York Racing Association President and CEO Charles Hayward that withholding of $8.6 million due winning bettors in several exotic pools for a period of 15 months was not an “unintentional oversight.”

Shortly thereafter, NYRA Board Chairman C. Steven Duncker announced that the NYRA Executive Committee had placed Hayward and Patrick Kehoe, NYRA Senior VP and General Counsel, on administrative leave without pay pending further investigation.

The Congressional hearing in Kennett Square, Pa. included the testimony of leading industry figures who support the ban of the race-day use of furosemide, a.k.a. Lasix.

Earlier this year, HRI railed against the coverage the Times gave the issue in its first installment of the investigative series. Lumping together fatality statistics that crossed all jurisdictions, breeds, and used disparate qualifying parameters was not only salacious but patently unfair in our view but not to the extent it lacked credibility.

As Hall of Famer Gary Stevens courageously stated even before giving his testimony, federal intervention is needed to save racing from itself. That is the position we took when the first Congressional hearings were held in the wake of the Eight Belles tragedy in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

“If there is no race-day medication,” Stevens said Monday, http://www.thehorse.com “it would solve a lot of problems in racing.”

Racing promised substantive changes after that hearing and some meaningful measures were taken including the ban on steroids. But given big picture realities, the measures weren’t enough and didn’t get to the heart of the issue; the abuse of legal therapeutic medication.

Of course, there’s the insidious issue of illegal substances to consider, the age-old problem of under-funded laboratories trying to play catch-up with the pharmaceutical companies.

Indeed, some testers are well aware of what the illegal substances are but their labs lack the funding (resolve?) to conduct thorough tests to prove that these man-made properties tilt the playing field and to stop its use.

Such a substance is Eprex. A synthetic preparation of human erythropoietin, or EPO, Eprex uses recent DNA technology. EPO is commonly used to treat certain forms of anemia by regulating the formation of red blood cells. Eprex is a purified glycoprotein which stimulates the process known as erythropoiesis and thus is performance enhancing.

The fact that no delineation has been made between permissive and illegal medications essentially has prevented Congress from adopting a bipartisan bill penned by Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act, which would lend new definition and process to the 1978 Interstate Horseracing Act.

According to published reports, all Congressional legislators knew about the issue before them is what they read in the two Times stories, and even those lawmakers considered friendly to racing are reticent to get involved in the sport’s problems.

The industry knows this yet it continues to dance around the issue. By maintaining the status quo, the improvements that have been made are treating the symptoms and not the root cause; abuse.

Dr. Greg Ferraro, DVM, a former Lasix use proponent who now believes he was mistaken, is calling for federal intervention: “There virtually is no way in which you are going to get any kind of consistent rules to control these drugs without it,” Ferraro said Monday.

In New York, meanwhile, the bottom has fallen out of the NYRA. The CEO and legal counsel were put on administrative leave without pay which moved them a step closer to the door, especially if the association expects to retain its franchise.

Dominos will continue to fall if Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who since his State of the State address, has said he wants to take a closer look at whether Thoroughbred racing in New York continues to make sense for the state in the long term.

Any change in direction might include the closure of Aqueduct Race Track and converting it into a multipurpose facility and the possible sale of Belmont Park and Saratoga, two extremely valuable and attractive properties, to the highest independent bidder.

The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has scheduled a meeting at Belmont Park for Wednesday at 11 a.m. to discuss the entire matter.

If the feds intervene because racing fiefdoms in 38 states could not come together in their own best interests with a solution insuring the sport’s viability well into the Millennium, does it really matter who’s at fault?

If the NYRA loses its franchise because its officers acted as if they were above the law, will the ripple effect of those actions bring down an entire industry?

Sadly, for many people in this game, Wednesday’s Derby post draw will serve only as little more than a distraction, and a temporary one at that.

Written by John Pricci

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