Saturday, January 19, 2013

Outside the Box With Cloudy Tests

At times I find horse racing is plagued with bumper sticker policy on drugs. We test everything, spend millions doing it, and since we test and get so few positive tests, horse racing is clean. What a bunch of bunk.

Bumper sticker policy involves implementing a rule or rules that makes us feel good, but really does nothing. It happens everywhere else too at times and we've all seen it. Want crystal meth gone? Ban it and declare "war". Want to stop kids from getting fat? Ban a big gulp. Do you want to stop EPO in the Tour De France? Well we test for it on raceday. Take that!

It rarely works because the policy rarely addresses the root issues. It doesn't have a vision. It isn't based on sound policy. It is created on a reaction.

Today in Harness Racing Update Gary Machiz offered a new suggestion for drug testing. It involved looking at "cloudy" tests in pre-race drug testing.
  •  I suggest that all horses competing on a given race card arrive at the track, not later than lasix treatment time. All horses would have blood drawn upon arrival. Every horse must produce a "clean" not "cloudy" sample in order to be allowed to compete.
This shows some critical thinking. Critical thinking is so rare that you know when you see it.

Gary explains it better than I could, so please give it a read (pdf). However, the narrative is sound. Trainers who use ITPP or EPO have cloudy tests, trainers that are pushing the envelope have cloudy tests. If their horses blood profile does not match the mean they don't race. If they don't change their ways they don't race.  If they don't change their ways owners do not get to earn money and they move elsewhere. In other words, the industry says: Race drug free on raceday or don't race at all, lose owners and go work at Wal Mart.

This eliminates the massive cost of post race testing over time, and the non-sensical positives for banamine that was given 48 hours out instead of 51, with zero malicious intent to cheat anyone. 

Is it doable, the right thing to do or just another bumper sticker policy? I don't know, but it shows some critical thinking on an issue that has been serviced with a bumper sticker narrative for 100 years.


2 comments:

Tinky said...

While the idea is basically sound, you'd need to have biological passports for all horses in order for this to work.

Just like with humans, some of the "cloudy" results are due to natural biological variances. Biological passports are would nip any reasonable objections along those lines in the bud.

Coincidentally, this brief passage from the recent Lance Armstrong interview is highly relevant (emphasis mine):

Oprah: Were you afraid of getting caught?

Armstrong: No. Drug testing has changed. It's evolved. In the old days they tested at the races. They didn't come to your house. They didn't come to your training camps. They tested you at the race. That's shifted a lot. Now the emphasis of the testing, which is right, is out-of-competition testing.

Oprah: Would you take several days before? You take it and give yourself enough time for it to move through your system?

Armstrong: Yeah, it's a question of scheduling. I know that sounds weird, but two things changed this. The shift to out-of-competition testing and the biological passport. And it really worked. I'm no fan of UCI, but they implemented the bio passport.

Biological passports are the primary answer to the blood-doping problem. Unfortunately, however, they aren't likely to be introduced in Thoroughbred racing for two primary reasons: cost (an easy, though short-sighted excuse), and the status quo power structure's long-standing and perverse belief that exposing cheaters (especially those of the high-profile variety) would be a P.R. nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Tinky,
You should really get away from the computer some.