(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – December 20, 2010) The complaint about synthetic racetracks from horseplayers is noisier than their complaint that horse racing hasn’t successfully established a firm national policy for the use of drugs in thoroughbreds. In this regard, the horse racing business has been no different than Major League Baseball in the late 1990s and early part of the millennium, when knowledge about illegal steroid use by the players existed among the teams, the fans and the Commissioner and nobody came forward to change things.

Recently, there has been a lot of commentary by turf writers and concerns expressed by breeders and horsemen but no definitive action to clean up the game measurably. Despite the prohibition of anabolic steroids, the United States has the most lenient medication policies and the most liberal drug policing in the world. Many leaders in the sport would want to see standards tightened, yet are frustrated by recalcitrant trainers and independent jurisdictions.

One of the reasons an American-trained horse can’t be traveled to Hong Kong or Europe and win is because he can’t race drug-free, which is how much of the rest of the world operates. One of the reasons why second-rank European-trained horses come to the USA and win as if champions is because they react positively to Lasix and Bute.

In addition, horse industry medical researchers believe that the USA’s legal chemistry leads to breakdowns, a genetic disposition that is beginning to show up in breeding. The fatality rate for horses running on USA dirt tracks is 2.03 deaths per 1000 runners. In England, it’s 0.8 deaths.

There was a time when drugs weren’t technically allowed in the country, although trainers with a background in pharmacy figured into the calculations of handicappers for most of the century’s first half. Impetus to legally permit drugs went into gear after Dancer’s Image was disqualified from the 1968 Kentucky Derby. Their use became sanctioned and widespread by the early 1980s.

The condition, as it persists now, took some time to develop and will take some time to come apart. Such being the case, if Santa has the powers to change again, his intervention would be welcome by many.

If you've missed any of the seven prior Christmas wishes for horse racing, you can find them in the archives. Look to the right hand margin, scroll down past the biography and you'll find them. Please return tomorrow for the next.