The Straight Dope

Have you seen the RCI's recent push to change the narrative on drugs and racing? The story they tell is accurate, and has been for some time. However, it is super-difficult to change a narrative, when the public believes a different one that has been passed down, generation to generation. Find me a movie about a racetrack, and I am pretty sure the storyline will include a drugged horse.

Conversely, if you ask the general public if baseball players "were all juicers" ten or twelve years ago, or even today for that matter, the answer would probably be no, despite the headlines. Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were on cereal boxes, and baseball was lily-white. That was the narrative. Today, after steroid scandals in that sport, people believe the testing is good, they are on top of it, and players are playing clean. It's something the general public wants to believe about their beloved sport. So believe they do.

Yes, 0.015% of tests come back bad in racing, whereas back in 2005 for these sports:

WADA-accredited laboratories reported 482 positive samples for cyclists in 2005. Baseball was second with 390 positives, while soccer was third with 343. Track and field - the most tested sport - was fourth with 342.

Cycling also had the highest percentage of positive tests, with 3.78 per cent out of 12,751 samples, followed by baseball (3.69 per cent out of 10,580) and boxing (3.41 per cent of 2,433) and triathlon (3.41 per cent of 2,170). Track and field had 1.67 per cent positives out of 20,464 samples.

Recently, with several high profile riders getting nabbed for blood doping (or eating bad meat according to some), cycling's perception is probably approaching racings. They have some work to do.

What should racing do to change the perception? According to marketing experts we should be doing exactly what the RCI is doing - spreading the word the best we can about testing procedures. In tandem, I think making sure new undetectable drugs, and those who use them (the real scourge, because these people win races and get more and more horses from Sgt. Schultz  horse owners), are expunged from racing as soon as possible is another good angle.

One major note of caution, and people like Seth Godin have spoken about it: It can take a generation or more to change an ingrained perception. So no matter how hard we work, don't expect things to change overnight.


Anonymous said...

Perception? How about the reality. Overall handle has been in decline the past 3 years around 1 Billion a year. Who cares what the RCI says. Try claiming a thoroughbred off some of these 30%-40% trainers. The last one I claimed was in 04. He won 3 in a row and won the day we claimed. Looked great back at the barn until a couple days started to pass. He absolutely just fell apart. I'll never forget the vets response when I asked him what he thought after a complete examination. "Where do you want me to start". It has only gotten worse since then. They can "spread the word" all they want, but I left the game a couple years ago and won't be back. At least until the 30%-40% trainers are gone.

Anonymous said...

Try rescuing or taking in from the track recently retired TB racehorses. As anonymous #1 posts - they fall apart when the drugs wear off, physically in general - and lameness? Good grief. Exactly what drugs, and are they legal - who freaking knows? I don't get these reactions from a horse coming down from a regular bute or banamine dosage, that's all I can say. I've rescued a horse coming in off a "layup" farm that was ataxic in all four legs within 36 hours and close to founder within 48, as an example. The vet is still astounded that he survived. A former Biancone horse. All I know is that I've dealt with numerous horses in withdrawal that are recent retirees from racing. They HAVE been on drugs and whether or not those drugs are illegal - talk to some honest vets out there. I've been doing that for a while by necessity.

Eric P said...

Baseball was successful at controlling perception because they have a strong leader in their Commissioner and all teams play by the same rules.
In horseracing, there is no central authority and different rules are applied in different states/provinces. Given such, it is virtually impossible for Horseracing to affect perceptions or reality!


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