Column: Horseracing Integrity Act supporters need to walk the walk

Column: Horseracing Integrity Act supporters need to walk the walk
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”

It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?

Here's another edition:

I tried not to delve into this subject matter for so very long. Oh, how I tried. Really did.

But, Round II:

I read a Paulick Report editorial recently that begs more serious questions than it supplied answers. Or, at the very least, it makes me question.

Question the thought process. Question the motive. Question the sincerity. Question the intent. And, quite honestly, question the heart.

The first piece was authored by Arthur Hancock III. He is a nice enough man. I’ve known him for over 30 years. Almost 40 now. Good with a song idea, from time to time, and a guitar string. Good for a laugh, from occasion to occasion. A diverse fellow, for sure. The man not chosen to operate Claiborne Farm upon the passage of his father, Arthur “Bull” Hancock decades ago, yet the man who went on to own, operate and prosper at his own Stone Farm in Paris, KY., and breed Kentucky Derby winner Gato del Sol.

I would venture to say that Arthur is well-rounded in all aspects of the industry. He has bred many horses. He has run hundreds, if not thousands. He has earned his stripes, and, from time to time, the platform. Yet, in my view, he is a combination of many characters and definitions — that include complex, complicated, competitive, competent, and contradictory.

Over the years, he has taken the time to make his position regarding race day medication very public. He has written. He has spoken. And, he has testified.

This week, once again, Arthur III took pen in hand — or fingers to keyboard — and opined why Thoroughbred racing would soon fall into the toilet and abscess if all race day medications — including Lasix — were not banned immediately from the “The Sport of His Kingdom.”

He wrote that Lasix, alone, induces Thoroughbreds to lose significant weight from the time it is administered to the time of the race, and that this reduction in weight is “performance enhancing.”

Hancock goes on to write that all race day medications should be banned because the rest of the world does it, and we should either fall in line, or fall from grace and sight. The theory is that our racing is flawed. The thought is that race day medications — including Lasix — are all performance enhancers. The idea is that it hurts the credibility of the game, and it hurts the breed.

And, it is Hancock’s conclusion, from his self deductive process, that the only winners in this country today are the “cheaters.”

Well, I think most — if not all — of this subjective assumptions are either flawed, or need further explanation and dissection.

First of all, I think there needs to be significant science devoted to the study of cause and effect results of all race day medications, and Lasix. I don’t know how losing a significant amount of weight can help a “lighter” horse to run much faster. If that is, in fact, the case, doesn’t it make sense that a horse that loses that much weight in that short of time, may also lose strength, and be drained, exhausted, compromised and exasperated? Would that not make Justify — who is over 17.1 hands and weighs in at about 1,300 pounds — more likely to lose than win, if heavier horses are compromised?

Secondly, the assumption that the rest of the world does not allow race day medications should not immediately mean that there are horses overseas that are not given race day medications. Two very different statements.

One should ask, “How much testing is actually being conducted in these other jurisdictions? How many different drugs are the connections being tested for, and what standards are being set to ensure compliance in these other countries? Who oversees the testing, results and ultimate decisions in England, Ireland and France? What are the medications that are allowed the day before and/or the day afterwards? What drugs are being administered, tested for, and regulated during out-of-competition times?” Simply put: a ban on race day medication by statute does not mean that they are not being utilized.

Third, and my most important point is this: If you believe that race day medications are bad for the industry; hurting the sport; and punitive and compromising to the horse, then you should abide by one simple edict: Do Not Use Race Day Medications — Including Lasix — In Your Own Horses.

There is no rule, Arthur, that you HAVE to run on therapeutic medications — such as Lasix. There is no mandate that your trainer and veterinarian MUST prescribe and administer this preventive medication. There is no one holding a starter’s gun to your head.

If you are so convicted that Lasix is hurting the industry; the sport; the breed, there is a simple approach for you. Here it is. Don’t use it in your own horses that race. Make a commitment and stick to it. Do not use it. Period.

Yet, there are examples all over the country where you’re horses have run while being treated with Lasix. On race day. In fact, there are legislators lined up to ask you that very question if you ever decide to try that stage again in Frankfort and before the members of the Kentucky General Assembly. I may know of one. Or two. Just discussed it with them. You are welcome for another stage presence.

I would argue that in today’s world that it would be inhumane not to treat a Thoroughbred racing with Lasix. The drug is known for preventing hemorrhaging in the nose, throat and lungs. The drug is known to help horses breathe better; more naturally. The drug is known to help resolve a persistent and consistent issue that most, if not all, Thoroughbreds may experience to some degree or another. To stand by and not treat a horse with a medication that he or she may need may be the most inhumane thing that I can imagine.

But I would also argue that to “say one thing, and do another,” is less than sincere, professional, forthcoming, as well.

The second person to pick up the joust and do battle for the ill-conceived Horseracing (should be two words, or hyphenated, at the least) Integrity Act of 2017 is Belinda Stronach — President and Chairman of the Stronach Group and daughter of racing mogul Frank Stronach. (According to the supporters of Congressman Andy Barr’s legislation, Frank Stronach has already expressed his support for the legislation, as far back as April of 2017.)

I don’t know Belinda Stronach. Never met the lady. I will presume that she, like Arthur Hancock III, has the best interest of the industry in both their heart and head. She recently wrote a letter to Bob Latta, the Chair of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Energy & Commerce, and to Jan Schakowsky, the Ranking Member of the same Committee.

In part, this is what Ms. Stronach wrote:

“The Stronach Group is one of the largest owners and opertors of Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States. Within our portfolio we hold some of the most recognized bands in the industry, including: Santa Anita Park, “The Great Race Place”; Pimlico Race Course, home of the legendary Preakness Stakes; Gulfstream Park, home of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational — the world’s richest Thoroughbred horse race; Laurel Park; Golden Gate Fields; Portland Meadows; and Rosecroft Raceway.

“It is well documented that The Stronach Group is a strong proponent for uniformity in Thoroughbred horse racing and that we support the abolishment of race-day medication.

“While our efforts to eliminate the use of race-day medication started years before, in 2014 The Stronach Group issued a letter written by Frank Stronach to our fellow racetrack operators, urging them to come together to discontinue the practice of race-day medication. At that time, we also vowed support for the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP) hoping that states would adopt and implement the reforms by September 1st, 2014.

“As this committee is no doubt aware, to date these efforts have not come to fruition. Horses continue to race on medication administered only hours before they race. The United States is the only major racing jurisdiction in the world where this practice remains true.

“NUMP still has not been adopted by all jurisdictions. Out of the four states in which we operate, Maryland is the only one to adopt NUMP but has yet to fully implement all of its components.

“Our sport will benefit greatly from a level playing field, uniformity and federal oversight. Presently, there are 38 racing jurisdictions with different rules, regulations and penalties. These inefficiencies are both ineffective and costly and compromise the integrity of our sport.”

There are truly two things that stick out in the body of that letter and the language used.

One, Ms. Stronach states that the sport could benefit from “federal oversight.” While the proponents of the federal legislation argue that it only establishes a “non governmental board,” the legislation and this proponent invites the same federal government that struggles with the most minute issues to control, regulate and over-see the Thoroughbred industry.

Wow. The most inefficient form of governance in the world today is now going to have the experience, dedication and expertise to oversee Thoroughbred racing. Doubt it.

Two, Ms. Stronach if you truly believe in this subject matter so vehemently, so reverently, so undeniably, then here’s a question and a thought:

Why does your father still race horses that utilize race day medications — including Lasix — with his own race horses and in jurisdictions all over this country — including racetracks that you own?

Why does Adena Springs Farm, owned by your father and your family (I presume) stand stallions that raced on Lasix and were treated on race day? Some of the best stallions in the world, mind you. Stallions like Ghostzapper, Awesome Again, Mucho Macho Man and so many others.

And, why do you allow Lasix and other medications to be administered at your very own racetracks on race day? Those medications may be permissive, you have the control to write races that prohibit the use of any race day medication and you have the ability to prevent — if your track management teams so decided to do so. Oaklawn Park, led by the Cella Family, did just that this Spring.

Why have you not?

My guess is that there is money involved, right? So the conviction loses out when it comes down to a debate between the conscience and the pocket book?

The debate on whether race day medications should or should not be permitted at racing venues in North America is a worthy one, and there are very well intentioned and learned people on both sides of the equation.

In short, I don’t think people and veterinarians should ask or permit Thoroughbreds from running without the benefit of anti-bleeding medications — such as Lasix. Personally, I think there is no difference than asking the owner to go without their blood pressure, blood thinners, or any other prescribed meds that ensure quality of life.

But, after some discussion, perhaps if true dialogue were to engage, there may be some resolutions that all could agree upon and implement.

Yet, when the proponents of banning race day medications — including Lasix — have a track record that is easily obtainable, readable, digestible and understandable and that track record reflects a history of contradiction, and hypocritical behavior, it is difficult to take your arguments seriously. It is more difficult to take you seriously. And, it is easy to see why people don’t trust your words, your intent, your suggestions, your mandates, or your heart.

Meet Gene McLean

The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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