Bad news, good news and a call for boots on the ground

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 12, 2020

In the wake of the unsealing of four federal indictments involving 27 individuals for alleged racehorse doping in both Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, various industry officials and organizations offered their thoughts on the situation.

Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Chief Executive Officer Alan Foreman, in comments made on the March 10 “At the Races with Steve Byk” program, said he believes good can result from the charges and the ongoing investigation, which involved some state agencies.

“This is a bad-news-good-news story,” Foreman said. “The bad news is the industry is again dragged down by a scandal. The good news is the industry is capable of rooting out this type of conduct. This could be an outgrowth of the Murray Rojas case (in Pennsylvania), and there probably will be more tied to this. It was great boots-on-the-ground work.”

“The indictments and arrests this week of trainers, veterinarians and others on charges of operating a massive, multi-state horse racing doping network deliberately designed to avert detection from racing, veterinary, and pharmacology regulatory agencies as well as federal authorities is not a negative for the racing industry, but testimony to the fact that the system can and does work when all these agencies cooperate,” Ed Martin, President of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said in a release. “The Department of Justice, particularly the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, must be commended for leading this effort, which involved multiple law enforcement agencies assisted by state racing regulators to varying degrees.”

Martin said that “illegal drug manufacturing and distribution, falsified veterinary records and prescriptions, fraudulent labeling, and illegal doping of horses have all been openly discussed at ARCI meetings in recent years as racing commissions moved to actively involve other enforcement entities and police agencies in efforts to utilize the full gamut of government authority to combat what we all knew was transpiring. Proving it is another story. And that takes time, dedication, resources, and the resolve to use every tool available to a law enforcement or regulatory body. If you read the indictments you will see the tremendous value court-ordered wiretaps were in making these case.”

Foreman noted that years ago the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, which was funded by racetracks, was an important investigatory arm for the industry. He said such a system—trained investigators in racetrack stable areas and training centers—is a critical missing piece in discussions that have primarily centered on the federal Horseracing Integrity Act as means to combat illegal drugs and cheating.

“With all the discussion about what we can do with (the United States Anti-Doping Agency) and the federal bill, rebuilding the TRPB should be the highest priority,” Foreman said. “We’re missing that component in the industry—that and better drug testing is where we should be channeling our money.”

Foreman said work continues on an “alternative federal bill”—the fact one was being developed was first publicly discussed earlier this winter.

“I oppose the (Horseracing Integrity Act) for a number of reasons,” he said. “But where I think USADA could bring value is in the area of better investigations and on the enforcement side. If it was willing to work with us it’s something we could take advantage of. I oppose the (HIA) for a number of reasons. There are broader issues not covered by the (HIA). To limit it to medication won’t solve the problems. I’d rather take a much more intelligent response that is far more comprehensive. I don’t think the federal bill (as written) does that. I’d rather see it improved.

“The alternative effort is a compromise way of moving forward. Assuming the (HIA) doesn’t pass for whatever reason, where are we into next year? We’ve been working with others on alternatives and other areas to focus on for uniform standards.”

Martin in 2018 testimony before Congress called for a dedicated unit in key federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Customs Department to handle and investigate racing-related matters.

“That call was ignored by those writing and proposing so-called racing integrity bills, yet it did not stop individual racing commissions from strengthening ties with state and federal enforcement agencies with broader jurisdiction and greater tools to pursue racing related issues,” Martin said. “These federal indictments are another signal that just because someone may get one past the lab, it doesn’t mean they won’t eventually get caught.

“As far as we are concerned, these efforts are ongoing and can never stop and the more everyone works together, the better the sport will be.”

The Jockey Club, the primary driver for the HIA for at least six years, in a statement on the federal indictments said it told members during an August 2016 meeting in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., that it had hired a company named 5 Stones to analyze the then-state of investigative procedures and to make recommendations for improvement. It said 5 Stones is a leading private investigation company with offices around the world that played a major role in the World Anti-Doping Agency investigation that resulted in sanctions against Russia for doping in the Olympic Games.

TJC said 5 Stones’ investigation “produced indications of significant racehorse doping and active equine doping networks within the industry. This included information supporting findings that doping is often supported by enablers composed of trainers, veterinarians, pharmacists, stable staff, and in some instances, owners.”

TJC didn’t say how or if the information obtained from the company was used, but did say it would cooperate as federal authorities continue their investigations and prosecutions.

Indictments charge 27 in systematic racehorse doping enterprise