The Sport of Kings and Drugs

Horse racing event

Horse racing event (Photo credit: tpower1978)

An Editorial from the pages of the New York Times

“A new threat to racing’s integrity is the opening of casinos..”

At the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, racing fans will be watching to see if I’ll Have Another can duplicate its Kentucky Derby victory and claim the second leg of the Triple Crown. Attention should be focused no less on the horse’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, who has a troubled record of sanctions and penalties for administering illegal performance-enhancing concoctions that endanger racehorses.

Over 14 years in four different states, Mr. O’Neill received more than a dozen citations for violating drug rules. His horses break down or show signs of injury at more than twice the national rate, according to a recent report in The Times by Joe Drape and Walter Bogdanich.

Mr. O’Neill denies ever illegally boosting his horses with drugs or “milkshakes” of baking soda, sugar and electrolytes. But he and other successful trainers are the focus of increasing calls for tougher punishments to protect the industry’s integrity. Of the sport’s top 20 trainers, only two have never been cited for abusing medications. The industry’s influential Jockey Club has called for a ban on all drugs on racing day and a lifetime ban on trainers who are repeat offenders. The proposal deserves prompt adoption by state racing commissions.

A new threat to racing’s integrity is the opening of casinos adjacent to racetracks, where trainers, tempted by bloated purses, push unfit horses to race with more medications. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a task force investigation after The Times found the fatality rate had doubled at Aqueduct, with 30 horses put down since the opening of an adjacent casino last year.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A number of racing experts are picking Went the Day Well to win the Preakness, and his trainer is Graham Motion, one of the two trainers in the top 20 never cited for doping. We know who we’ll be rooting for.

16 comments on “The Sport of Kings and Drugs

  1. I think Larry Jones is American. And sad as Eight Belles was SHE WAS NEVER given any drugs. Accusations without merit were tossed all over and Mr. Jones had her tested to prove that HE HADN’T given her anything.

    I wonder if racehorses weren’t bred for SPEED but rather endurance, plus jockeys slowed the pace would the horses need Lasix so they wouldn’t bleed? I guess what I’m asking is–is speed and the length of the race–are those main considerations for anti-bleeding meds.

    I can think of another trainer who said he didn’t know what the drugs did to his horses he just liked giving them the shot. And there’s another trainer who was found with cobra venom in his tack room as was his vet. Cobra venom acts as an anelgesic. These two are the types of trainers I’d liked seeing banned.

    But then you have the case of Life at Ten. What a debacle. EVERYONE failed her. Even a major former trainer by not having her sent to the testing barn. Sure it was an emergency but I’m certain they could have provided for her needs.

  2. Eight Belles was a true tragedy, I witnessed it , and it tore my heart to pieces, I believe that racing mares and stations , geldings together in a race is wrong, mares will literally run their hearts out just trying to beat a male !!! she was not given drugs , her breakdown was horrific, but not drug related most all your top trainers are on the up and up, where the problem lies is with the Low Life trainers, Races can and are being Won with no drugs !!!! Graham Motion and the others have proven that….. Racing needs to be addressed not Condemned, my passion for the Horses all of them is true i love them all, and do not want to witness any of them being hurt and mis used or mis treated ……………I cannot in all sincerity do that, because i believe with all my heart it can be fixed, And i believe the horses love the competition…….. I cannot also dismiss the fact of where would they all go >???????? Thousands of horses are well cared for and housed for racing this is fact !!! Please dont condemn Horse racing , lets be the vehicle of its reform !!!

    • arlene,

      I disagree with you regarding mixing the sexes in certain races……..if the horse is capable, then it deserves to be there. Genuine Risk is an excellent example. It is about ability, not gender and the system is set up for the most part to acknowledge the sex factor. What the system fails to do is protect the athletes, bettors and fans…..tooooo many broken, discarded and dead racehorses, jockeys, backstretch folks…too many not given a dignified, peaceful post breed/race life with respectful end.

      • In most cases the mares are not strong enough to endure the pace with the boys, there are exceptions to this however, Zenyatta is a great example , for her strength and conformation where and are very strong !!!! Racing is conscience of this and the Kentucky Derby for mares is the Kentucky Oaks , it is up to the Trainers and Owners to know if there mare is strong enough to Race with the Boys…………..Eight Belles was not !!! her race should have been the Kentucky Oaks, of course there is no way to know for sure about the those tiny little ankles…The safer thing to do would have been to race Eight Belles in the Kentucky Oaks……………….. In Racing every owner and trainer should know there horse ………..

  3. I galloped Thoroughbred race horses when I was 14/15 years old at a training/breeding/re-hab farm in So. Ca in the early-’70′s. Up until that point, I had wanted to be a jockey, but after realizing the lack of training the horses are subjected to, the rough handling to get them started and to the track, the calleousness of many of the owners, and the horrific injuries that some came back to the farm with after being at the track, I opted to go on to becoming a trainer and taking horses retired from racing and thoroughly training them for other “careers”. Many went on to be successful hunters and/or dressage horses, and I also rehabbed many of these wonderful Thoroughbreds to being outstanding trail horses who did very well also in trail trials and competitive trail riding.
    Really burst my little bubble regarding the nastiness of the racing industry, and it didn’t seem to be any different for the QH’s we got in training for QH racing either. In the early-’70′s, we didn’t see the drugging/doping that happens now, and to the credit of the people I worked for at the training farm, we actually did do some arena training for a little better foundation and mental wellness in the horses, and also trail rode some of the horses too to help clear their minds and teach them to relax.
    Nowadays, I rarely watch horse racing because even if there are no injuries or deaths in a race I’m watching on TV, I know that many, many horses are breaking down, being put down, and are being shipped to slaughter everyday because of the sinister nature of horse racing. It’s ALWAYS all about the money, and as long as that holds true, horses will continue to be drugged, injured and will die.

    • Thank you, thestarlightsanctuary, for having the honesty and integrity to look racing squarely in the face, for having the compassion and courage to leave it behind, and for having the desire and determination to retrain those who by the grace of God were saved from the slaughter pipeline.

      I believe the concoction of unbridled competition and unquestioned tradition, of gambling and drugging, of purses and horses, of greed and glory, is deadly.

      Sooner or later, everyone loses from this lethal mix — even those who sincerely believe they are engaging in harmless entertainment or an innocent occupation or a love affair with the horses.

      There is simply too much money at stake and too much incentive to cheat to ever clean up the “sport,” no matter how valiantly the good guys try. Put another way, there’s just too much evil intent parading around as pure motives.

      If I look at it from the equine’s point of view, even one horse made to suffer during training or on race day or in transport is one too many — for that horse and for me.

      And if I say I care about them, even one horse recklessly disposed of for bottom-line reasons is one too many — for that horse and for me.

      (I realize brutal practices aren’t confined to the racing industry, but it’s where the biggest bucks and the most media coverage are, so the temptation to abuse and ultimately murder — yes, murder — the horses is ever-present.)

      As for the “love to run” argument, I would say: While greyhounds delight in their speed, that doesn’t mean it’s ethical to exploit their inborn desires and natural abilities to make money at their expense.

      Same goes for horses.

      I don’t mean this as an attack against anyone who holds a different point of view. I’m just airing thoughts and feelings that intensify the more I learn about the common practices of and lame excuses for this “sport of kings and drugs.”

    • We are here to change all that !!!!! Many accidents cannot cannot be pre determined, but if Racing used commonsense alot of them could be prevented……………….. It is time for Horse Racing to reform, they all know and should use their Knowledge to consider all points when putting a horse in a race , just to mention one you dont put a horse in a race who is hurting or injured , if that is done that horse endangers every Jockey and other horse in the race………………..Most owners have more than 1 horse , use another if this the case !!!! There is no need for a Drugged Horse in any race.. for petes sake use the commonsense they were born with !!!!

  4. Milkshakes what? first off there is sugar in feed don’t see the fuss about that. Baking soda is used to calm an acid stomach, a lot of people use this as such, it also helps with PH. And electrolytes come on, any one who’s ever drank Gatorade Hello. My pony horse worked horses every day, loosing electrolytes like crazy, giving her electrolytes was a must. Yes there are some bad trainers but I worked for some damn good ones who loved their animals. The problem is training these baby’s before they’re 2 and riding them before 3. Another thing that bothers me is iceing them before a race, and if they bleed out the lungs they have no business racing. But don’t condemn the whole sport, just fix the problems. I don’t ride anymore because of arthritis, but enjoy watching and attending races. One bad apple shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch.

  5. As unfortunate as it sounds, or looks, people, including myself, will root for the horse, or jockey, or story, or a combination of the above, that we like. It’s not a horse’s fault if their owner or trainers force drugs on it, the horse doesn’t have a choice or say in the matter. One can only hope & pray that none of the horses break down, are injured or cause injury to their jockey. Equestrian sports are dangerous, regardless of drugs. Drugs that are performance-inhancing should be banned, all horses should be tested prior to all races, no questions asked or excuses accepted. Anyone caught giving their horse said drugs should be fined & banned from the race, & the horse should be scratched, for its safety. I don’t condemn horse-racing in & of itself, it’s been around since man & horse first came together. It does need some major changes, for the safety & futures of all race horses, as well as for the safety of the jockeys. One real important change would be to start these horses at an older, more mature age, after they’ve been properly trained & conditioned & their bones have strengthened. Another, of course, would be to guarantee a second chance & a future for all race horses when their racing days are over.

    • You are absolutely correct Valerie; there should be drug testing (or at least the threat that the horses can and will be arbitrarily drug tested) prior to, or immediately after the race. At most of the rated horse shows in California, we paid extra on on our entries to cover drug testing. If a competitor won or came in second, third or whatever in a class, often the drug tester from the Dept of Ag would show up with their tester cup and we’d wait around until we could get our horse to urinate. It was then sent to a lab for testing and if an undeclared drug was detected, the owner and trainer would be fined, prizes revoked, etc. Racing can and should work the same way; random testing before or after a race, and if illegal drugs, or drugs over the legal limit are detected, the owner AND trainer are fined, licensing would be suspended, and if caught a second time, the owners horses are banned from racing and the trainers licensing is revoked for at least 5 years, if not lifetime.
      What ever happened to people being held accountable? Everyones sooo afraid to step on someones toes, hold them accountable, etc, but in “the old days”, honor and honesty was extremely important and shysters and cheaters were fewer and farther between.
      I’ve never drugged a horse in order to compete, and if I’m told by a vet that a horse needs a lay-up of 1 month to recover from an injury, I’d automatically add an additional month to make sure the horse is in fact recovered and they weren’t put back to work too soon. Then again, I’m always looking at the horses health longevity, even if its a clients horse and not my own. My clients are told how I operate when they come into training and can opt to go with a trainer that is less careful with a horses health, and is also more speedy with the training.
      I too would like to see the larger purses offered for the 4-year-old and up races instead of for the 2 and 3 year old futurities in racing, reining, cutting, pre-green hunters, etc. The unfortunate “problem” is that because this is big business with a lot of money involved, waiting until the horse is 4 years old or older would require that the horse would have to be maintained that much longer. Many owners, trainers and other people involved are all about keepinjg the horse for as few years as possible, compete for the large purses in the 2 and 3 year old futurities, and then either sell the horse for big $$$ before the hard training far too young catches up with the horse and they start having severe lameness problems (although, many are already having problems and are being injected and medicated at 3-4 years old and will have to be maintained on drugs through out their competitive career) or retire them to breeding if a mare or stallion. The poor geldings are the ones who often do not face a good future because if the wear and tear of early hard training catches up with them relatively young, they often are sent to the kill sale and on to slaughter.
      I would actually be on board through subsidies and/or portions of membership fees going toward incentives being paid for waiting until the horse is 4 years old to have them compete in a big purse “futurity”, and start offering less money for the 2 and 3 year old events and phasing out those futurities. Since this is a big money “game”, if incentives are offered to “wait” for the horse to mature, and the only way a horse can be eligible for a big purse 4 year old futurity (or a maturity) would be that they can’t have competed in ANY 2-3 year old futurities, I believe more owners and trainers would be on-board with that if they are paid to “wait”.
      Yes, its sad that many people need that money incentive in order for them to retain a horses physically and/or mental health by waiting to train, however, it IS the reality of the “game” and if it will save horses lives and health and create longevity, I’ll jump on that in a heartbeat even if it costs me a little money.

      In the long run, and if I am being somewhat selfish here, a little of my money spent up front will probably save me a lot of money later because we wouldn’t have to be rescuing more, and more, and yet more horses (we currently have 47 horses at our sanctuary, http://www.thestarlightsanctuary.org) that are on their way to slaughter because they were crippled physically and/or mentally at a young age. Perhaps this would be more of a win-win scenario for everyone involved: horses, owners, trainers AND rescues/sanctuaries.

  6. I hope it was a misprint “we currently have 47 horses that are on their way to slaughter because….” How can a Rescue send horses to SLAUGHTER?????I do understand your me.aning tho of early training. I feel a horse should never be ridden before it is a long 2 yr old. No money competition for it. That would give owners a little better time frame than waiting until three or four. And the purses should be larger for older horses. It IS a conundrum.I really hate seeing yearlings broken and getting ready to race at two.

    .

    • For Gods sake, my sentence did NOT say “we currently have 47 horses that are on their way to slaughter”–what it said was in PARENTHESES: “(we currently have 47 horses at our sanctuary, http://www.thestarlightsanctuary.org)”–so in the body of the sentence but contained and seperated from the sentence by parentheses—NOT how you presented it.
      Seriously, 1. I have never in my life sent a horse to slaughter 2. we have 47 horses, 3 burros, a pet cow and a mule (many of whom were actually RESCUED/BOUGHT at the kill sale where I had to bid against a kill buyer running the price up on me out of spite!) that hang around and eat, sleep, drink, and not much else besides that 3. we applied for our 501c3 almost a year ago, but since we are still a private rescue, we DO NOT ask for nor, receive donations, and thus 4. my husband and I work 7 days a week, 365 days a year in our business (and yes, we did work last Thanksgiving AND Christmas days) to support all of the animals at our sanctuary 5. it costs us nearrly $40,000 a year just for the HAY to feed the large animals, so not counting dewormers, vet care, teeth floating, rice bran, farrier services, etc which runs us thousands more annually 6. many of the horses we rescue are old, old, old, so we rescue them so as to bring them to a place where they can have a dignified end (humane euthanasia) when the time comes.
      Its just this kind of crap that will have it all over the Internet that we send horses to slaughter when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Obviously there is no benefit monetarily for us to send horses to slaughter when we spend so much just for hay yearly, but besides that, THIS type of misunderstanding of what I wrote (in parentheses) is exactly why we don’t interact with other rescues and/or advocates…..I’m seriously ticked right now, so thanks for ruining my day by writing what you did….this is like the game “telephone”…..IOW, really stupid…… :-(

      • Thestarlightsanctuary: I hope Tuesday will be brighter when you read this reply. I trust that all the rest of us saw your parentheses, understand how they operate, and knew that the previous commenter had misread your words. I wish I’d written in sooner to say so.

        If anything good can come from this (lazy?) mistake, it is that we all learned how amazing you and your husband are in rescuing and supporting — with no outside assistance — 47 happy horses, 3 blessed burros, a precious pet cow and a marvelous mule. The way they express their eternal gratitude to you — as nickers and nuzzles, whinnying and walking up to you, soft-eyed stares and serene countenances — must be well worth all the hard-earned dollars and heart-felt work you pour into their care.

        I know a few other rescuers who have the same passion for helping horses, but those who have as many animals as you do are 501(c)(3)s. I hope your application gets processed this year, so you can half-way relax on Thanksgiving and Christmas days! You deserve to be as content and at-peace as your grazing equines and cud-chewing bovine.

      • Really sorry that my 84 yr old eyes read your post wrong. I don’t think this “will have it all over the Internet.” I’m sure many others will read it correctly.
        You are to be commended for your rescue operationand all the effort you and your husband put into it.

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