Three high-profile US racing identities are the latest to join a growing movement away from raceday medications in North America.
Owner and breeder William Koester, past Chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, has joined Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard and former Keeneland President William C Greely in support of the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA), a movement supporting the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in racing.
Sheppard said he was at first reluctant to join because he worried that “inviting federal intervention could have adverse consequences by taking over the control of our sport by people who probably had little knowledge or understanding of it”.
But he said he now realised that there is no longer any choice in the matter. “We need more sophisticated drug testing, we need stiffer penalties for major offenses, and we need uniform testing and medication policies. As a trainer who races in many different states, it has become almost impossible to keep up with all the permissible dosages and withdrawal times,” Sheppard said.
“Although a lot of good work has been done to simplify these rules, I believe that the time has come for horse racing to follow the lead of human athletes and to appoint an independent body to police our sport. There is just too much money and too much self interest at stake to expect a level playing field if this is done internally.”
Sheppard said that if WHOA achieved its objectives, it would show the world and the US betting public that American racing is serious about cleaning up its sport and presenting a better image. “This will not only increase the value of our bloodstock and increase our revenues from wagering but also restore our position as a leader on the international racing stage.”
William Koester said he had heard “every conceiveable excuse in the world as to why a horse must be drugged on raceday to compete” in his 35 years as an owner-breeder, past chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, and past chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
“Choose any name you wish, lasix, salix, or furosimide, they are all the same, and they are a performance enhancing drug given 4 hours before the horses go the the starting gate. Yes race fans, we drug our horses to make them run better, where parimutuel wagering is involved.”
Koester said that horseman’s groups, “represented by the well dressed, well spoken, well connected, and well paid obstructionists, like to call it medication to give the impression that it’s all good”.
“The horsemen groups will also tell us they believe in transparency in the sport, but don’t believe that for a minute, the more the public doesn’t know, the better. Imagine 16 million Kentucky Derby viewers witnessing 17 of the 18 Derby starters being shot up with a needle in their necks before the race. We all know, that would never pass the smell test at any Derby party.
“Leading Hong Kong trainer John Size says it best, ‘good horsemanship doesn’t come in a syringe or a bottle’. It’s way past time for North America to get in step with the rest of the world, and race our horses, raceday drug free.”
William C Greely, former president and CEO of Keeneland, commented after reading an interview with British trainer John Gosden on “How the Great American Thoroughbred could become increasingly irrelevant”.
In the interview, Gosden was asked if he disagreed with the use of race-day medication in the US. “I now believe that medication administered on race-day, as happens in the States, is a problem. If you allow it, you degrade the breed in the end. How many generations of American horses have now raced on known medications, let alone other stuff where some vet was being extremely clever and ahead of the testing programme? Given those circumstances, how can you trust the breed?,” Gosden said.
“Have you contaminated the breed? Yes. Have you degraded it? Yes. I think it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to trust performances of horses in Black Type races in America because they don’t truly know what the horses raced on. These medications are performance-enhancing, obviously, otherwise people wouldn’t use them. In Hong Kong, Australia, France, Britain, Ireland, at least you know that the horse raced clean.”
Greely said: “Here is a highly educated man who has trained and raced horses in Europe and the United States. I find I agree wholeheartedly with his astute opinions on all counts regarding racing, race day medication and racing surfaces in the United States. I could not have put it more plainly or accurately.”