Sunday, November 24, 2013
In Hollywood, Truth Always Stranger than Fiction
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 24, 2013—If you’re a fan of NCIS, America’s top rated television series, then you probably know that its lead character, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, does not believe in coincidences.
Neither do most horseplayers, albeit to a fault on many occasions. Well, here’s what’s happened over a three-day period this week , Wednesday through Friday.
On Wednesday, the state of California, shocked to discover that horse racing was being conducted back East, got out in front of Thursday’s Congressional hearings on horse racing by joining their Mid-Atlantic brethren and others in the Uniform Rules for Medication and Drug Testing consortium. This follows the lead of Illinois which only recently came on board, and Kentucky is thisclose to joining the confederation in short order.
As trainer Turo Escalante would say after saddling one of his improbable longshot winners: “What a surprise.”
Escalante, of course, is a fictional character from the late HBO horse racing series “Luck” which--truly coincidentally--was canceled by the cable giant because, they said, it was afraid to incur the wrath of animal rights activists who might boycott their network after learning that three horses died on the set as the series was being made.
Last month, the California Horse Racing Board completed its investigations into unexplained sudden death of horses. Yet, it took until Thursday morning when in advance of the hearings it was announced that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had been exonerated of any wrongdoing in the sudden deaths of seven horses in his care within a 16-month period ending last March.
It was determined that five of the seven died of cardiopulmonary failure and that five of the seven were stricken in morning workouts or gallops, a sixth during a race, and the seventh immediately after racing.
“We couldn’t find anything,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the CHRB. “It doesn’t change the fact we don’t have an answer. It does say there is something wrong here.”
It has been widely reported that following the third sudden death, CHRB testers began to look for blood doping agents. None were found, but the bronchial dilator clenbuterol, legal for therapeutic use but illegal on raceday and a source of great controversy, was found in 25 percent of the horses tested.
All seven of Baffert’s sudden-death horses were treated with thyroxine, a hormone used to treat hypothyroidism. When questioned during the investigation, Baffert told Arthur that he treated all his horses with it but stopped after the seventh death.
Arthur said it was rare for the medication to be used that extensively, and hasn’t found a barn that uses it on all their horses, but that the hormone was legally dispensed, adding that the trainer was not in violation of the rules.
Some of the known side effects of thyroxine and its derivatives are difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, excessive sweating or intolerance to heat, and fast or irregular heartbeat.
According to a recent New York Times report, Baffert asked his veterinarians to prescribe thyroxine, which is against American Association of Equine Practitioners policy that states treatments are to be based on specific diagnosis.
It is unknown--nor does it matter--if Thursday’s Congressional hearing was a kneejerk reaction to a damaging Times series during Kentucky Derby week or whether the Jockey Club made good on its threat to seek federal regulation if racing states were dragging their feet on having their join the Uniform Rules group.
In either case, federal Constitutional law supersedes the state statutes that govern horse racing because of possible unlawful interstate commerce activity which, by definition, is the essence of simulcast wagering.
Possible legislation, the third of its kind in the last two years, would give the feds oversight in the areas of medication use, testing, and punishment. Testing would be placed under the auspices of the United States Anti-Doping Agency which oversees the misuse of drugs in sports, including the Olympics.
The Uniform Rules organization is hoping to head off federal legislation in the shadow of the most recent regulatory wire.
Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, was insistent on Capital-OTB’s “Loose on the Lead” program Sunday morning that concerns regarding Clenbuterol and corticosteroid abuse have been addressed and that a point system has been established for rules violators, doling out punishment depending upon the severity of the offense.
The sticking point will be whether Salix will continue to be allowed on raceday. Predictably, horsemen’s groups are in uniform agreement, wanting the status quo to be maintained. The congressional bill wants to see raceday use phased out within two years of a bill becoming law.
On Friday, three Penn National–based trainers and a racetrack clocker were arrested and charged with committing fraud in connection with horse racing at Penn National. The news release came from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg. Coincidence?
Somebody cue Escalante.