HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 16, 2021 — We were encouraged last week to see that Breeders’ Cup Ltd. decided to follow in the footsteps of the Triple Crown and mandate that all “Win-and-In” Challenge Series races be conducted Lasix-free.
All aware that this would not be the first choice of horsemen but if racing’s fortunes are to turn around and march forward, they will need to get over the disappointment. Change in all things is inevitable.
And shouldn’t the “Lasix controversy” finally be laid to rest.
Parenthetically, education is vital to our species, but when it comes to the sportsfan species, education may not work because now computers do the thinking and the American public is badly out of practice.
Sportsfan doesn’t know, nor is he likely to care to learn about the difference between therapeutic medications and performance enhancing drugs. To sportsfan, a drug is a drug is a drug. If horses race on drugs there must be something wrong with the horse.
Drilling down on the non-Lasix qualifier, graded stakes points for the purposes of selection into a Breeders’ Cup race will only be awarded in Lasix-free graded events.
Breeders’ Cup is walking its talk and leading by example, efforting to align American racing with international standards. Besides, isn’t it really a wide, wide sales world after all?
“Future Stars Friday” was conducted Lasix-free last year and went off without a hitch, making 2020 the year to be remembered when American racing began to deal with its drug issues earnestly. And that’s a good, promotable thing.
We all realize there’s a long, arduous road ahead but, fittingly, the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act was passed with only four days left in the calendar year.
Under HISA, Lasix-free racing will commence on July 1, 2022. No one knows with certitude how it will be funded, nor should anyone care. Participation is a privilege, not a right. Either pay or ride off into the sunset.
“Hopefully [Breeders’ Cup] will set an example for other racetracks and stakeholders to embrace forthcoming safety and integrity measures, including the elimination of race day medication as a new, safer racing era approaches,” organization CEO Drew Fleming said in a statement. From Fleming’s mouth…
America Loves Winners, Hates Cheaters
Cosmically, around the time Breeders’ Cup made its Lasix-free announcement, Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, granted an interview to TDN in which he gave an overview of what’s needed to clean up horse racing in the manner USADA helped clean up cycling.
By now, sportsfan knows about the blood-doping measures taken by disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong to earn all that glory and adulation. Regrettably, blood doping is a methodology which is not unfamiliar in horse racing.
Tygart stressed several requirements to accomplish USADA’s task. First, he admitted that he needs to completely understand the minute vagaries of medication rules as propagated in 38 disparate jurisdictions then pass that education on to horsemen.
He noted, too, that he recognizes the mentality of the cheater transcends all sports, whether it be human endeavor or one who gives an illicit edge to horses. He understands that all any stakeholder wants is the same, fair chance.
Testing procedure is about research into the components of what medications to look for now, as compared to what may be coming down the pipeline.
That done, what would the proper results of that management look like? Without further inquiry and testing, science knows only what it knows.
The model to determine which properties are natural to the horse and which are not, i.e. lab created, is complex. One agent might be composed of 50 different properties; add a 51st and the entire chemistry changes into something new.
Is what remains legal or not, and how is that determination made? Modeling is needed for both processes; intelligence gathering and investigation. And it has to be right, otherwise how can uniformity be achieved?
Tygart admitted that in the human testing world much emphasis was placed on knowledge passed on by whistleblowers, stating that USADA got over 500 tips last year alone. A ‘whistleblower hotline’ was put in place. It resulted in positive findings in 22% of those cases.
If indeed it takes one to know one, snitching is a good thing. And doesn’t it take more courage to speak out than remain silent, as the country learned over the weekend? In any case discovery leads to detection and hopefully deterrence, the ultimate goal.
If not handled appropriately and cheaters learn that there will be no consequences if caught, deterrence will fail.
Tygart knows to expect pushback. He received death threats while working on the Armstrong case and knows knows the task is just as difficult, considering racing is a multi-billion-dollar business.
He termed the tragic equine deaths in California and FBI investigation a perfect storm that ultimately led to the passage of HISA.
Tygart is grateful there will be enough time, July-2022, for horsemen to adopt to any new rules that changed behavior needed for cleaning up the game requires.
Tygart believes the industry wants this now because if new rules and enforcement succeed, the public will regain confidence knowing that when horses win, all that was required is hay, oats, water, horsemanship, and patience.
And that’s the kind of perfect storm the game needs to survive and thrive once again. Anyone tethered to the horse should hope Tygart succeeds because if you allow hope to die, participation in this game at any level just isn’t for you.