Commentary: Saving, Not Destroying the House

Supporters of federal role in monitoring drug use in racing trying to save the sport.

By Arthur Hancock III

In response to Ed Martin's false accusations published in May 23 issue of Blood-Horse and later on that the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) is "trying to burn down the house," let's be perfectly clear: WHOA is trying to save it.

Mr. Martin seeks to maintain the status quo, but WHOA—whose members include more than 1,100 owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, racetrack operators, handicappers, racing fans, and other industry professionals—is tired of it. It has been more than 30 years since U.S. Sen. Charles "Mac" Mathias Jr. told our sport to clean up its drug problem. WHOA wants reform and we want it now, while we still have an industry and a sport to save.

Mr. Martin, Lasix does indeed equate to horse-doping. It is a proven performance-enhancing drug banned in most racing jurisdictions around the world, and "therapeutics" given to horses that don't need them are abusive. It doesn't matter if you believe that or not, the racing public believes it and perception is reality.

Any sport that loses 4% of its fan base each year won't last long. That is where racing is today thanks to the permissive drug rules granted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the inability of 38 racing commissions to agree on anything. Uniformity and transparency can only come about through federal legislation appointing an outside, independent agency. No industry can police and promote itself. That is a blatant conflict of interest.

The proof is in the pudding, Mr. Martin. So, we ask you:

1. Do we have the same medication rules in place in every racing jurisdiction in the United States, or even in all of the major racing jurisdictions?

2. Do we have the same testing rules and procedures in place in every one of those racing jurisdictions, including best practices for out-of-competition testing?

3. Do we have the same procedures and standards in place for laboratories, and the same contractual arrangements with laboratories, in every racing jurisdiction? And, are all the labs accredited to international standards?

4. Do we have the same processes for investigation, prosecution, and adjudication for violations in place in every racing jurisdiction in America?

5. Do we have the same system of penalties in place in every racing jurisdiction and is there consistency in the application of those penalties across jurisdictions—meaning, does the same offense result in the same penalty in California as it does in New York, as it does in Kentucky, as it does in Louisiana?

6. Can we react quickly and uniformly throughout the nation to address the latest new drug being used by those who would cheat to gain an inappropriate advantage?

7. Do we have a single medication regulatory organization in place that can speak with authority to other racing nations seeking new rules, such as was the case recently with the European steroid matter?

We respectfully submit that the answer to each and every one of these questions is a resounding "No." The big picture, then, is that the status quo features none of the elements any fair-minded observer would believe to be essential for true uniformity and appropriate rigor for medication regulation in Thoroughbred racing.

The proverbial house is indeed on fire. WHOA's mission is to help put the fire out.

Hancock is a co-founder of the Water Hay Oats Alliance, a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing.