Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jockeys and the PED question

Bill Simmons, of, wrote a great piece leading up to the Super Bowl. It dealt with asking the performance enhancing drug question and why should it be taboo. After all, with high-profile athletes with ties to steroids and HGH ruining wide swaths of sport eras, why can’t the question be asked? More to the point, athletes have lost the right to be offended by the question.

How can the tiresome Ray Lewis (ugh, Ray Lewis, thankfully we haven’t heard a peep from him since the Super Bowl) come back in 10 weeks from a torn tricep, an injury that can take upwards of six months to heal? That’s 14 weeks ahead of schedule, or 98 days, or, essentially, an entire football season.

How can the fill-in-your-own-superlative Adrian Peterson come back to fall nine yards shy of breaking the NFL rushing record after his knee went through a blender?

People say, “These people are freaks!” “What a story!” “What a testament to their work ethic!” I actually find it encouraging that Derek Rose is taking such a long time to come back from his torn ACL.

Which brings us to Gary Stevens, epic Hall of Fame jockey, winner of thousands of races, actor extraordinaire, insightful TV personality. Right here, our very own Preach, said, “Is this guy kidding? Apparently not. The first time I saw him a few weeks ago on HRTV since he returned from his Northwest Territory boot camp, he was decidedly leaner and healthier.

“I didn’t see the middle leg of his three recent stakes wins but the first and third were classics, especially the one on Slim Shady. To return after a long absence at 49 is one thing; to return at such a high level remarkable. This Hall of Famer is a true renaissance man. Somehow I don’t think his story will end when he ultimately decides to hang it up for good. Jockey as inspirational leader; who knew?”

It’s not the return that’s questionable, but the high level of said return. Forty-nine years old. Unless he’s John Nerud, he’s got many more years behind him than he does in front. He’s been out of the game since 2005. Sure, he’s galloped some horses, but he hasn’t been “game ready” for roughly seven years.

Jockeys, at least in my recollection, haven’t been tied to PEDs at all, just booze and other recreational follies. Horses have, but that incriminates the trainer. The first story I read tying jockeys to PEDs was when Frankie Dettori failed a drug test in November. ESPN reported Dettori didn’t take a PED, though he still failed the drug test, the contents of which will not be disclosed.

What could enhance a jockey’s performance? Most likely drugs that help regulate weight, heighten awareness, stimulants. Think about their labor. Up early in the morning to gallop a small herd of horses. Physically taxing. Then, just a few hours after training closes, it’s onto the jock’s room for five, six, seven mounts. Now it’s 6 p.m. It’s time for a spinach salad and bed. Do it all over again tomorrow.

Look into the annals of history. Jockeys are as competitive as any athletes out there and when hyper-competitive uber athletes are thrown into/onto a football field, a baseball diamond, a basketball court, a hockey rink, a racetrack, you mean to tell me one jockey isn’t trying to get an edge over another? What about a guy who’s been out of the game since November of 2005 who might be jockeying for a Derby mount?

Jockeys are in a great position to fly under the radar. They play third fiddle, behind the horse and trainer. They are rigorously tested for drugs and alcohol since they have to drive in circles all afternoon, but as far as athletic performance maybe mums the word.

So, yes, it’s great Gary Stevens has come back and is competing at this high level. He’s a great advocate for racing and one of the great commentators on the air no matter the sport. But in this sports climate when humans are routinely performing super human feats, it’s fair to question. More accurately, it’s irresponsible not to.

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Written by Brendan O'Meara

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