Posted: March 1, 2017
Consider the following two paragraphs:
The Thoroughbred racing industry is rife with cheaters and “doping,” and the only solution is federal legislation that would turn over drug testing and penalty enforcement to the independent United States Anti-Doping Authority. A new version of the bill is supposed to address concerns about constitutionality and other issues brought to light by stakeholders.
While there may be exceptions, those in our industry who are responsible for the well-being of our horses are dedicated to the health and welfare of their horses and the integrity of the sport and follow the rules. They are embracing the most significant changes to medication policy in decades and as a result, substantial progress has been made on uniform medication and penalty enforcement, albeit not as quickly as some would prefer.
Which of the above is accurate, in total or in part?
The answer to that question hinges on personal opinion, but agendas have a way of influencing personal opinion and, if counterproductive, are the antithesis of consensus and unification.
There’s nothing wrong or unusual about myriad stakeholders having differing views on approaches to fixing things—it’s actually quite healthy—but in the end there needs to be consensus to accomplish goals. In some cases that’s not easy to accomplish, but when it comes to the need to elevate integrity in racing, there already is broad consensus.
So why do certain constituencies in our industry regularly throw the sport under the bus and send the message that racing is a drug-ridden mess that can’t help itself? And why do they do so while at the same time attempting to promote the sport, expand its fan base, and entice people to invest money in owning Thoroughbreds? Is the game corrupt or not?
Something is wrong here. It’s hard to find another sport—or business for that matter—that operates in such a manner.
This isn’t about hiding stuff in a closet or ignoring issues that need to be addressed to further the business. Drug positives and other violations in racing are made public by regulatory agencies, as they should be, and are reported by the media. The public has a right to know what’s going on in a regulated industry.
But anyone who has reported on or followed medication in racing for a long period of time knows there usually are legitimate extenuating circumstances, due-process concerns, and perhaps even selective regulation by those with large egos and personal agendas. Not looking at the whole picture greatly colors individual and public perception, and sometimes horsemen—and ultimately the industry at large—unfairly pay the price for it.
Polls over the years have suggested—that’s the key word here—that a majority of the public believes doping is a major problem. But one could argue polls and surveys are largely designed to produce a predetermined outcome.
Who paid for the so-called polls and how were the questions framed? Was there any attempt to explain or distinguish between therapeutic medication overages that do not constitute doping? Or was it lumped together to achieve a desired result?
Somehow, the racing industry has sat back and allowed animal rights’ groups to promote and the public to believe that the use of Lasix—the only permitted race-day medication—and other therapeutic medications for the health and welfare of the horse equates to doping.
Is it that difficult to educate people on the difference? Or does racing have little regard for the intelligence of its current and potential customers?
There are many different definitions for “fake news”—a tiresome and ridiculous politics-driven term in my opinion. But much in the way the racing industry has handled its messaging is tiresome and ridiculous. It has become difficult to tell the difference between the real and the fake in news, commentary and even public relations.
Having spent more than 20 years objectively covering the racing industry’s dysfunction—for example, stories written in 1998 were basically rewritten in 2012 because problems hadn’t been successfully addressed—I believe the progress on national uniform medication rules and testing procedures over a period of the last five years is borderline amazing given the industry’s structure, which admittedly leaves a lot to be desired.
But whether federal legislation passes or not, the states will regulate racing and there will be a need for the National Uniform Medication Program. And when you consider there is no broad industry consensus on federal drug legislation, and that the push could drag on for years or longer as history would suggest, it’s even more imperative the work on uniformity continue—and that the Thoroughbred industry acknowledge and even promote that progress regardless of political agendas.
For some reason, however, the uniformity effort has been pooh-poohed, even undermined, and the progress certainly has been underreported. Isn’t it past time for industry stakeholders, no matter what they believe is the best route for uniformity and improved testing and enforcement, to ask why?
Tom LaMarra is Managing Editor of THAracing.com