Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drugs Can Be a Murky Bog

One of the hottest topics in racing continues to be drugs - of all sorts. At times you can read some heady stuff out there on the scourge, at other times the chatter seems to do more harm than good.

I first learned about lactic acid build-up the hard way, which amazingly Thoroedge talks specifically about this week. In high school I played many sports, and with our maniacal basketball coach making us run ten miles before practice consisting of plays, a scrimmage and wind sprints you would think I was in decent shape. One day each year we had a "track and field day" at school, intramurally, and decided I would try track and get out of class. I warmed up and joined the 400 metre, thinking the trip around the oval looked easy, one which anyone with a lick of common sense and a modicum of athleticism could run full tilt for. At the head of the lane, with a like 90 length lead, I began to know what Uncle Mo felt like at the top of the stretch in the Wood Memorial. I felt like someone was cutting me in the thighs, repeatedly, with a meat cleaver.

In the thoroedge article, Bill Pressey speaks of the alternatives to milk shaking, which can help horses avoid lactic acid build up. I don't know if they will work or not, but it is an excellent illustration that trainers are constantly looking for an edge. Milk shaking, via a tube, is creepy, and we are all glad the sport banned it. Like most things in racing, if a little soda does some good, a whole lot of it must do really good, and that can get us, the horse's and the sport in serious trouble. Things that Mr. Pressey espouses, like interval training, are exactly what we want our trainers to be doing, however. But to me, it does illustrate what we're up against in this sport. One man's edge to help his racehorse run well, happily and healthily, can be another man's quest to have it banned.

Recently, in Iowa, this comes to light even moreso, in my opinion. Trainer Gene Jacquot was suspended for cathinone, a terrible Class I drug. However, there was three billionth's of a gram of the drug found in this horse's system. Was trainer Gene sitting in the paddock with a big huge needle of this street drug, ready to inject the horse to make a score? If he did, he should be a world class chemist, or something, because he has the amazing ability to cut a drug into three-billionth's of a gram.

Some folks might say "well, you never know, it could have helped the horse". Are you kidding me? Take a gram of marijuana, cut it into three billionth's, pop it in a plate of brownies and eat it. If a half hour later you are listening to Hendrix and eating cheeto's, you are a prime candidate for a placebo in a drug trial. Call Merck.

There are bad people in racing, and we tend to know who they are. People interval training, or those caught with a speck of caffeine, or whatever, in their horse's are generally not them. The true bad people who are there to scam participants, fellow owners and bettors, tend to get legal counsel and ask for due process while racing, often times supported by horseman groups, while the "three-billionth of a gram" guys make headlines.

Common sense drug policy is something we cannot seem to get our mind around in our sport. The result? Politicians who don't know a baseball from a blinker get to make the decisions. Like most systemic problems in our sport, I find they stem from a lack of common sense, absence of vision, and the fact that there is no one there to mind the store.


Steve Zorn said...

You're absolutely right about the trace level problem. Any sane drug policy has threshold limits, just like a test for driving under the influence. Every time my partners visit our trainer's barn, I have to watch that a horse doesn't take a bite of their poppy seed bagel, which could lead to an opiate positive at some ridiculously low level.

Can't figure out why some jurisdictions continue to insist on "zero tolerance" when the right standard is "performance-affecting tolerance"

Cangamble said...

I have a question. When a masked concoction doesn't work, does that mean all of the illegal drug used shows up in a test, or only a small percentage of it?
I also wonder how much of an illegal substance is burned out of the system between injection time and blood or urine time?
Usually, where there is smoke there is fire, especially when it comes to junior chemists (ie trainers).

Pull the Pocket said...


I would guess that is all part of the investigative process. If there is that little of something in the horse at test time, it's not the drug being injected. What I have a problem with is reporting it based on the drug itself, when in no way the dude jacked a horse with an injection of it.

That's my opinion.


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