Friday, October 12, 2012

The Drug Problem Never Goes Away

This week Lance Armstrong was again in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. The US Doping Agency released a 200 page report, detailing testimony, cloudy tests, emails and other evidence that they say is a slam dunk case, proving the multiple classic cycling champion used illegal substances.

For several years cycling has always had a wink, wink, nudge, nudge aura about it with fans. When fans see a rider come out of the woodwork to climb a steep hill in record time, they discounted it to drugs. When they see virtually anyone dominate, they've said it was drugs.

The response from cycling was always the same: "Look at all our clean tests"

George Hincapie, one of the most respected riders in the game summed it up in the report:
  • “Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.”
"It was not possible to compete at the highest level without them"

So much for the no positive test meme.

Racings biggest issue with regards to drugs is exactly the same as cyclings, if not worse.
  • Bettors think what racing is telling them about drugs and testing is - in the words of Papa Joe Biden - malarky. There is a school of thought out there that bettors don't mind massive form reversals, or a trainer showing up who could not train a toilet to flush suddenly become the next big thing. But it goes to the heart of your game, and it is much more than that. No one wants to sit a poker table, unsure if the queen of hearts is sitting in someone's sleeve. Racing has a tough time going mainstream in the same way. 
  • Owners throw up their hands and do one of two things. i) if I can't beat them I'll join them or ii) I'm out. Racing needs to attract good people in horse ownership. If the people who join the dark side dominate, the game is on its way to being a playground for the unethical. It's on a fast track to being an historical footnote. 
  • As more and more bettors leave, purses fall. As more and more good owners leave, yearling prices fall. When that happens you see New York Times articles wondering about horse safety. You see headlines with governments wondering why public slot money is given to horse racing. 
If anyone has a high school child who likes cycling, would you encourage him or her to try and get to the top level, knowing what you know now? The day I'd want a child filling him or herself up with EPO at the risk of death just to be on a level playing field is a day that would never come. 

For a lot of people out there, horse racing is in a similar position. The direction needs to be changed, and the drug problem needs to be addressed; how, I do not know. What I do know is that press releases saying "99.54335% tests come back clean, look how great we are" simply aren't going to cut it.


2 comments:

Tinky said...

Tis a shame that we are never likely to see a similar fall from grace in racing, especially as it relates to the household name trainers who essentially cheated their way to the top; the circle of those truly "in the know" is just too small.

Pacingguy said...

I think what they do at Macou is the way to go. The tracks allow only so many trainers on their roster and owners must pick from them, no one else.

A trainer cheats and it is bye bye, so you have to be a foool to cheat.