Regulatory agencies and industry organizations for years have discussed a need to put more teeth into trainer suspensions for serious medication violations by penalizing the horses, and subsequently their owners.
But the practice of trainers turning their horses over to assistants during lengthy suspensions remains commonplace even as the Thoroughbred industry is adopting enhanced penalties for medication violations.
The recent announcement by Breeders' Cup to ban horses from being entered in the World Championships if their trainers are found to be in violation of its convicted trainers rule, effective 2015, could be a sign of serious demand for change in policy.
"We're not being judgmental or prescriptive to other jurisdictions," Breeders' Cup chief operating officer Bob Elliston said Oct. 27. "Do we think it's an appropriate rule for others to consider? Yes. When people violate the rules, they shouldn't be able to pass horses on to someone else in the barn."
Trainer Doug O'Neill, because of suspensions in New York and California, wasn't permitted to enter horses in this year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park. The horses were entered under the name of his assistant, Leandro Mora.
Breeders' Cup, which travels to various jurisdictions, adheres to the regulations in place in each state but, as owner of the races in the World Championships, has its own rules that may enhance existing integrity regulations. Elliston said the latest changed in the convicted trainer rule is about fostering integrity in the game.
"When owners have their horses put on the shelf, the more that takes root and their ceases to be a financial return on investment, it becomes a different discussion," Elliston said, noting the financial investment made by owners to keep and race horses. "We want owners to (take responsibility) and look at the consequences."
Breeders' Cup has other integrity-related regulations that may not be standard practice in various jurisdictions. For instance, out-of-competition testing for blood-doping agents is conducted, as is enhanced testing of samples for a wide range of drugs; extension pre-race veterinary inspections that can be conducted throughout Breeders' Cup week; and a requirement that all horses must be on the grounds no later than 72 hours before their races.