Horse Steroids Face Congressional Limitations
WASHINGTON D.C. – The practice of horse doping just days before a race may cease by the end of the year; that’s according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which is spearheading a movement in that direction.
NTRA officials are facing pressure from Congress to get the issue under control. In recent months, the federal government has expanded its probe of steroid use to horse racing amid its inquiry of baseball players who allegedly use performance enhancing drugs.
The group hopes to impress upon tracks, breeders and trainers across the nation the importance of moving away from the practice, which can be harmful to equines.
Alexander Waldrop, president of the NTRA, believes change is imminent.
“The major industry stakeholders are united in their commitment to address drug and medication issues on a national basis,” he said.
He was referring to the type and timing of steroid use. His organization hopes to change the practice whereby an animal is doped up anywhere from a month to days before a race. The treatment can greatly increase a horse’s speed and strength, but can be used to mask health issues that would otherwise prevent an equine from racing.
And in a sport where unhealthy animals go by the wayside, Waldrop and others believe forbidding this type of steroid use will reduce the number of early retirements and deaths due to injuries that worsened after being covered up by performance enhancing drugs.
Horses are the most stringently tested athletes in sports; even baseball players have it easier. But Waldrop and the NTRA are pushing for improvements in the area of dope-testing, hoping to get a clearer picture of what’s going into equines’ systems.
“Is our testing perfect? No,” he said. “Can it be improved? Absolutely.”
Currently two methods of testing are in use. A urine screen is standard, but blood and plasma tests are believed to be most conclusive. But there are discrepancies among scientists about the results of blood and plasma testing – and so they have not been introduced as the new standard.
Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky also wants to see change within the industry. He’s the top Republican on a committee appointed to deal with sports and steroids, and he said that if the sport doesn’t begin to regulate enhancement-drug use in the sport, the federal government will.
For now, he doesn’t see the government making a point to raid facilities where steroids are in use. Instead, he said he would be a proponent of denying simulcast rights to states that refuse compliance on such a ban.
And for a sport that relies on TV betting, often from out-of state gamblers, such a move could be painful.
Twelve states already host laws prohibiting doping up to 30 days before a race and four more, including Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and Texas, are expected to pass similar rulings by the end of the year.
“We’re seeing compliance and support we’ve never seen before,” said Waldrop.
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