In July, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the Interstate Horse
Racing Act, held a hearing on medication and performance enhancing drugs in horse racing, chaired by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM).
The issue at hand is that unlike other sports, horseracing lacks a commission or a league office that can issue uniform rules.
"State racing commissions routinely impose small fines and short suspensions," Udall said. "There is minimal deterrence, and
chronic doping continues unabated." Industry experts testified about the perceptions and realities of doping and what could
or should be done to fix the sport. The committee is investigating whether a national set of standards for performance-enhancing
medications is a possible solution.
Perception vs. reality
Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association and chairman of the group's
medication committee said the National HBPA's position on performance-enhancing drugs is zero-tolerance. "Owners and trainers
who cheat by administering drugs that have no legitimate use in horses to win races should be kicked out of racing," Stirling
said. "The use of drugs like snake venom and the recently reported opiates (dermorphin) is doping, plain and simple."
With that said, data that state racing authorities have compiled shows that doping of Thoroughbred racehorses in the United
States is rare. Racing commissions test at least two horses in every race—that's a 25 percent sample of all horses racing
in the U.S. From 2009 to 2011, there were nearly 300,000 post-race blood and urine tests conducted. Only 82 tested positive
for drugs that were used to enhance performance or to cheat. That means roughly 99.9 percent of all tests were negative for
doping substances. During that same three-year period, state racing authorities licensed 5,800 trainers. On average, 12 trainers
per year were guilty of illegally doping horses, according to state regulatory data, meaning 99.8 percent of all trainers
did not dope horses. "These statistics should be the envy of every other sport that tests for drugs, like professional football,
baseball, cycling, to name a few," Stirling said.
Stirling also noted that the NHBPA does not oppose the controlled use of therapeutic medication used to treat injuries and
infirmities—medications like furosemide, which acts to prevent pulmonary hemorrhaging. While Stirling believes that doping
is rare, Barry Irwin, CEO of Team Valor International, said racing commissions operate with hands tied because the organizations
can only test for what they know. "There are probably plenty of positives that we don't about because we don't know what drugs
are being used, so we can't test for them," Irwin said. "These are 'designer' drugs that we'll find out about later that are
being used today, but that won't come to the surface until later." Irwin said the real problem is that there are too many
enablers, and as long as there are people who are willing to cheat, there is going to be an appetite for those drugs. Until
there's a way to eliminate cheating, the culture can't change.
But others on the panel said there has been change and progress over the last few years. James Gagliano, president of The
Jockey Club, said some improved regulations have made racing more uniform across jurisdictions. For example, anabolic steroids
are virtually banned across all pari-mutuel states. Kentucky is on the road to eliminating the use of Lasix. New Mexico and
California more strictly regulate Clenbuterol. "But, that is not enough," he said. "Regulations vary too widely in racing
states, there is no central authority or set rules and rigorous enforcement is lacking."
What's more, according to Gagliano, the definition of performance-enhancing drugs is too vague, unscientific, and fails to
differentiate between drugs administered only for therapeutic reasons and drugs with no use except performance-enhancement.
The reform medication rules, on the other hand, classify only 25 therapeutic drugs, and only if they are withdrawn well before
a race. This is based on significant veterinary consensus, he said. All other medications are always prohibited.