The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, quite active on the racehorse medication front for the past few years, is advocating a plan to implement "super tests" for all graded stakes in the United States.
The issue was just one discussed Oct. 25 during an owners' seminar sponsored by TOBA and held at Arlington Park in conjunction with the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Talk also centered on The Greatest Game owner-recruitment program, as well as racehorse partnerships.
TOBA chairman Gary Biszantz said it's his hope super tests, which involve a larger battery of tests on post-race urine and blood samples, eventually are in place for all grade I, II, and III stakes. TOBA oversees the American Graded Stakes Committee, which assigns grades to stakes.
"If we can get the racetracks to do it, it would be a great deterrent for the short term," Biszantz said. "The American Graded Stakes Committee is leverage in the U.S. that we haven't used yet. We could set conditions that would be much higher. We should know the horse is clean when he runs."
TOBA president Dan Metzger acknowledged there have been discussions on super tests for graded stakes, as well as talks with Breeders' Cup officials about other medication issues. There is no timetable for implementation of new practices.
Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force, briefed the group on out-of-competition testing, particularly to combat against blood-doping of racehorses. He said the concept, which entails random testing at any time, hasn't met with serious opposition but still faces some hurdles because of horsemen's rights issues.
Out-of-competition testing is being floated in Kentucky, where the Equine Drug Council plans to ask for racetrack participation. The matter could get dicey, but the call for clean racehorses has had no vocal detractors.
Biszantz suggested out-of-competition testing be part of the consent agreement on stakes nominations.
"If you don't want (horses to be tested), that's all right, but you just won't run in the race," Biszantz said. "Anyone who doesn't want to do that probably has something to hide."
Overall, Biszantz said progress has been made in regard to racehorse medication issues. He said all of racing's problems can't be blamed on medication, "but it certainly plays a portion, and we need to find out how big a portion. Are we just fixing it short-term, and killing it long-term?"
In regard to The Greatest Game, TOBA and Keeneland have fielded about 30 inquiries since advertisements began running on cable television networks in mid-August. Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, and Mike Akers, owner of Dapple Bloodstock, discussed the pros and cons of partnerships during the Oct. 25 meeting.
Finley said New Jersey-based West Point syndicates about 20 horses purchased at public auction per year. He said the organization spends between $50,000 and $200,000 on a horse but aims high on the racetrack.
"We try to race at the top end of the business, but we don't buy at the top end of the business," Finley said. "If it was strictly based on money, Bill Gates could buy the Kentucky Derby. Obviously, that's not the case."
Finley said West Point recently sold 75% of the 2-year-old Eltish colt Erinsouthernman, who broke his maiden at Saratoga and then finished third in the grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, to WinStar Farm for an undisclosed price. He used it as an example of "when to sell" -- not all partnerships may be willing, and in this case, the buyer allowed the partnership to retain a one-fourth interest in the colt, who was trained by Rick Violette but now goes to Elliot Walden.
Akers said his agency follows a model similar to that of West Point in that each horse in broken into "units" of $10,000 to $20,000. He said a key to partnerships is helping alleviate the risk.
"Horses eat cash, they don't eat hay," Akers said. "One of the basic fundamentals is spreading the risk. If you can't afford to spread the risk, Mother Nature is going to pound you into the ground."
Akers also said it's a challenge for some owners who run businesses to deal with how partnerships, and in fact the racing business, are handled. He said micro-management is not an option, and that "the people we surround ourselves with are critical" to the operation.
Gay Fisher, who oversees The Greatest Game, said a few prominent sports figures, both former and current, have decided to pursue Thoroughbred ownership. The Greatest Game is now embarking on its consultants' program, which requires participants to sign a code of ethics.