07/17/2009 1:17PM

Medication: RSVP/ Part 5


Let's continue the medication discussion but begin to focus on a few of the dominant themes from your first 400 reponses -- starting with the issue of punishment that's at the top of today's racing headlines.

CrimeAndPunishment27I think it's fair to say that almost all your comments about sanctioning trainers and owners for medication violations fell into just two categories: 1)Hang 'Em High and 2)Hang 'Em Higher. With no prompting, more than 100 of you raised the issue of penalties, saying they were wristslaps at best and a sham at worst. You called for longer sentences, including lifetime bans for second or third offenses; sanctions against owners and horses as well as trainers; and the transfer of horses to stables unconnected to the offending one instead of permitting an assistant to become the trainer of record during a suspension.

Whether or not these kinds of actions are entirely fair or reasonable, the mere fact that they were independently raised speaks volumes about the issue of public perception that is my primary assignment with the Round Table speech. But now that we have an immediate, living and breathing example in the news, it seems like a good time to consider how this approach might actually play out.

Steve Asmussen, last year's Eclipse Award winner and the trainer of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, was suspended for six months by the Lone Star Park stewards Thursday for a finding of a metabolite of lidocaine in a filly who won a maiden race for him in Texas 14 months ago. The suspension has been stayed pending an appeal to the Texas Racing Commission. Asmussen has vehemently denied that the horse was given lidocaine. His attorneys have argued that it is a clear case of environmental contamination and that the nature and quantity of the finding is inconsistent with the deliberate administration of a prohibited substance. The stewards refused to consider part of that argument because Texas has a "zero tolerance" policy on Class 2 substances including lidocaine, which they said made the source and size of the positive finding a moot point.

This case is likely to wind on for months, but for argument's sake let's say it stopped with the stewards' ruling Thursday and no further appeals were possible. The question now, especially to those of you who favor swift and severe justice in these matters, is what you think is appropriate action. Should Asmussen, who served a six-month suspension in 2006 for a mepivicaine positive, be banned for six months, or less, or more? Should all of his horses be forced to be turned over to outside trainers rather his assistants? Should all of the owners he trains for be sanctioned, and the hundreds of horses who have run under his name this year be barred from competition? Should Rachel Alexandra not be permitted to race again this year?

I'm not endorsing any of these possibilities, merely saying that some or all of them would be consistent with many of your recommendations. Now that we have an example in practice rather than theory, what should happen next?

Please continue the discussion in the comment section of this post. We went over the 100-comment limit on Part 4 this morning, so I've moved some recent comments -- made before this posting -- to this space as well.

Robert Rapier More than 1 year ago
I trained horses for a decade in the 80's. I had infirm claimers and maidens. Lasix & bute (where acceptable), DMSO, were medications we used. Things were different back then. I didn't have a PDR, and a vet who would get into grey areas. Oats, water, epsom salts, hosing a horse's leg, basic stuff is how we conducted business. There are so many drugs on the backside that my mentor, Jack Van Berg, told a congressional committee that it was "chemical warfare out there". National policies, with consistent standards, and testing practices are required. Too many loopholes right now to circumvent the rules. It is permitted or it is not. If you have enough money, you can buy a laboratory to conduct your sample split, Guess what the results will reflect?? i.e. a horse named "Old U.S.Mint". Money doesn't level the playing field, it stacks the deck. Reasonable doubt still exists in our system somewhere doesn't it? The burden of proof still lies with the prosecuter, not a zero tolerance policy that prohibits reaching the truth, and stating a case for the defense. How did we get to this convoluted state of affairs?
peter kreutzer More than 1 year ago
the racing industry did a good job with the steroid issue,so why can't the return to the proverbial hay oats and water work? perhaps a strong re-commendation from the jockey club and ntra suggesting a graduated schedule of eliminating drugs in the sport would work.the racing juristrictions could then decide to go along or not,and then let the bettors decide which tracks they want to bet
Mitch More than 1 year ago
Everyone is entitled to "due process," but when that avenue is exhausted, the following actions must be enforced: 1. ALL his horses during suspension must be turned over to other trainers not affiliated with Asmussen. 2. Horses will not be permitted to run, ala Paranek Stables, if they are not dispersed. 3.Asmussen must not be entitled to earned income of any sort (racing related, of course)during the entirety of suspension. 4.There absolutely has to be a three-strike rule, or this nonsense will never end. Lifetime banishment is a must if anyone is to take this seriously. 5. Owners who insist on being obstinate and keep their horses unraced, but in the hands of suspended trainers, should be fined daily, and their horses prohibited from competing (and earning)for a determined time period. Ex: Rachel Alexander, if allowed to remain with Asmussen, would be prohibited to race for thirty days for everyday the filly remains in Asmussen's care...or something along those lines. Bottome line, punishment has to be harsh. It truly is a no-brainer.
Nick Briglia More than 1 year ago
When you look at these big stables like Asmussen you have to think that the assistant's are more likely to be guilty of administering drugs than the big name trainer. So it seems ridiculous to just suspend the "name" guy and let the others just go on with business as usual. Forcing owners to move the horse to an entirely new barn will send a clear message, not only to the big name trainer, but to all his employees as well. Screwing around with drugs is going to seriously hurt your pocket, dudes! It's too easy for big stables to do what they want and simply have a figurehead at the top that takes the slaps on the wrist. Asmussen has already been suspended for six months. This time it should be a year. and all horses should be forced to move to new barns, unaffiliated with Asmussen or his assistants.
thehoarsehorseplayer More than 1 year ago
Nearly five hundred responses, but only a handful of practical suggestions. I think I was most persuaded by franklin lewkowitz's entry: "The betting public is dismayed by medication issues and the emergence of "the super trainers". The logical solution and i believe the most effective one would be to create central pharmacies at all racetracks where all medications,tonics and supplements would be sold by prescription only; prescriptions for specific horse written by track vets and trainers for specific horses. Any meds not obtained from the track pharmacy found in post race samples leading to disqualifications and suspensions. This would allow track vets to get out of business of selling medicines and back into the business of keeping horses healthy. Regular mds consider the business of prescribing medications and the actual selling of the medication should not be in the same hands as it is an obvious conflict of interest. The list of medication each horse received or prescribed would be available to the public and to potential claiming owner and trainers.I also believe by the pharmacy being run by the track cost of medications and therefore vet bills for owners would be controlled. the betting public would get a fair shot of knowing what meds or supplements each horse was receiving. This could restore the confidence of betting public and i believe increase the safety for the horses" This seems to be an idea with much merit, not least of which is it would establish a permanent record of medications issued, a record which over time would give the Racing community a truer perspective of the drug problem. A similar suggestion was offered by another poster this morning: stephen_l_taylor says: Even though I'm a small partner in a few horses and I'm not a vet, I'm not gonna get involved in the punishment aspect, but rather an easy way to control medication: ONLY STATE VETS CAN ADMINSTER ANY MEDICATIONS! Now, "private vets" could still prescribe medications, but the state vet would o.k. and then administer the prescription using medications from an approved state source. The owner would pay the cost of the medication and a fee to the Racing commission for having the State Vet adminster it (I'm guessing the fee would end up being less than they're paying private vets now) and ANY DRUG NOT ADMINISTERED BY THE STATE VET WOULD BE CONSIDERED A VIOLATION: PERIOD-EVEN OTHERWISE LEGAL MEDICATIONS. (States would have to work together on this for shippers, but I would think that would be doable The more I think about it, some policy along these lines seems the only logical place to start confronting the drug issue. Really, how is it even possible to address the problem without knowing the scope of the problem, without knowing exactly what drugs horses are receiving? The other benefit of centralized drug dispensation is that it really simplifies due process issues. So, I think we have a practical policy being offered here to at least begin getting a grip on the problem. Tracks dispense drugs and provide a public record of the drugs dispensed. Certainly, this is an idea worthy of discussion. It seems so practical to me that I would love to hear the reasons why it is impractical. Of course, I recognize the potential for political impracticality--that is just a matter of will--rather I want to hear reasons why, if implemented, such a program wouldn't work to help get control of what is presently perceived to be a jeeringly out-of-control problem.
SG More than 1 year ago
I have to assume many who have posted on these RSVP threads also wager on horseraces. (interesting reading, BTW) My question is, if all who think the game is crooked to the extent that some have expressed, then why wager at all? Would you play craps if you knew the dice were loaded but didn't know when & by whom? How many who wish to preach would gladly invest if they knew the outcome of a bet would produce winnings? Or, do we all possess sterling moral character that allows us to pontificate from above? Most, if not all, of the horses are being medicated and race-day meds are allowed in the US, correct? Where there are meds there will be overages. When it happens and is detected, there are consequences. That's the state of the game today. Yes, the testing could be more state of the art, there could be uniform, national rules and regs...coulda woulda shoulda and none of that will stop cheating. Cheating is an entirely different matter...a much more serious matter. Refer to a recent DRF article by Alan Shuback in regard to a British trainer who has been suspended for 1 year for tipping bettors. No drugs over there...just good old fashioned cheating. Personally, I have a problem with overmedication from the perspective of what long-term effects it has on the breed, rather than how meds are used to cheat.Although,I'm not naive enough to think certain trainers do not obtain an edge in the pharmacology department - some even avail themselves of nanotechnology that is quite expensive & impossible to detect. Yes, testing is woefully inadequate, underfunded, fractured among many jurisdictions and way behind the curve. Medications are firmly entrenched into the fabric of the game. That's one problem. It's easy to confuse the problem of meds with the problem of cheating because in some cases, they overlap. Likewise, an overage does not automatically equal an intent to defraud. Cheating is far more serious & far less frequent - difficult, if not impossible to detect (detection usually requires a whistle-blower or rat) and when discovered and proven, whether the cheating is through drugs or any of the other myriad ways a horse race can be rigged, should result in much more serious penalties than a mere 6 month ban with a small fine. I'm not saying pull out a six-shooter and plug the culprit with the card up his sleeve like they were wont to do in the Old West...but a lifetime ban and getting a job flipping burgers sounds about right.
Wayne80 More than 1 year ago
Everyone that has studied debate recognizes that those without a valid point stoop to insulting their opponent in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the subject at hand... Few if any have stated that drugging is the SOLE problem facing the industry, but it IS the topic du juor as posed by Steve and the gamblers have spoken. The overall opinion is that the punishment is not harsh enough when a trainer is caught cheating. No one wants to revert to the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials, we just want the punishment to be strong enough to be a deterrent. OF course, every trainer will have his day in court and a fair appeals system needs to be in place, but once it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that someone cheated the should be severely punished. You have the right to disagree, but it would be way more helpful to the conversation at hand if you would propose solutions rather than criticize others' opinions...
"Barack Obama" More than 1 year ago
Mr. Crist, as you know, I’m a huge horse racing fan, and I want the sport to survive. Therefore, I am proposing a $10B Stimulus Package for the sport of horse racing. All the ruling bodies in the sport need do is approve the following conditions for this “free” money: 1) Shut down all racing effective August 4, 2009 for a period of 5 months. Racing will resume per its normal schedule on January 4, 2010. 2) Adversely affected venues like Saratoga, Keeneland, Calder, etc. will receive the exact sums “netted” from their 2008 operations, per their 2008 accounting figures, as verified by the Internal Revenue Service, plus a maintenance per diem. 3) All employees scheduled to work will receive Unemployment compensation, plus 50% of their 2008 wages (salaries + tips), as reported on their 2008 income tax forms, and as verified by the IRS. 4) During the hiatus, all thoroughbreds currently racing on medication will be weaned and rested. Owners and trainers will receive identical compensation received during this same period in 2008, per their 2008 tax returns, as verified by the IRS. 5) During the hiatus, all tracks must by sanctioned in accordance with the NTRA’s policy for safe racing operations. Those that fail will not be allowed to resume live racing until such time as their proper sanctioning. 6) During the hiatus, all tracks must demonstrate their on-track, drug-testing capabilities to a level deemed acceptable by the NTRA. 7) When racing resumes, all drugs of any kind will be banned. Horses will run on hay, oats, and water (HO&W) only. Any trainer caught violating these HO&W protocols after January 1, 2010 will be banned from the sport for life. Period. No exceptions. Owners will be fined $10,000 for the 1st infraction; $100K for the 2nd; and banned for life thereafter; with all fines going to the Disabled Jockey’s Fund. 8) In addition, all whips will be banned from the sport. Jockeys will “race ride” with their hands only. Rein whipping, hand slapping, and the like will be cause for automatic disqualification and forfeiture of purse money. 9) Each of the following networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, and ESPN will receive $25M, and must spend and account for said funds for promoting in prime time my new HO&W protocols for the sport via national, regional, and local advertising through the 2010 Belmont Stakes. TVG, MTV, Discovery, Disney and others will receive $10M each with the same stipulations. 10) January 4, 2010 will be deemed national Horse Racing Day in America. I personally will be in attendance at Gulfstream Park to throw-out the first horse. Mr. Crist, these are merely the broad strokes to my Horse Racing Stimulus package. More exacting details will be released shortly, pending Congressional approval. Since this package appears to mirror the wishes of the overwhelming majority of your constituents, I wonder how many would favor my plan? Finally, my sincere apologies for stealing your thunder v. the big speech to The Jockey Club...
The Old Hozer More than 1 year ago
"The Old Hozer, in your posts, you have not offered anything of value ... " Mr. Crist, there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. The three posters who made similar observations are all staunch, LOUD, hang-'em-higher types. Not a single moderate has made such an observation. Know why? Because even the moderates who came late on here took the time and effort to go back and read the previous comments ... to fairly educate themselves ... before espousing their views. These three didn't even bother to go back to PART 4, where I posted the following: "If there is a long-term solution to this problem that doesn't end the game as we know it in the process, common sense dictates its starting point can only be moderation." Therein, Mr. Crist, lies the primal difference between these two disparate groups; i.e., their levels of intellect. As you know well, there are few games today more demanding of advanced intellect for success than horse racing, which is why those of us who routinely turn a profit could care less about the occasional billionth of a litre of lidocaine, no more so than polytrack, crooked jockeys, incompetent Stewards, nor the dozens of other excuses perrenial losers find to justify their inadequacies. Personally, it makes far more sense to me to eliminate testing for everything but steroids and HGH, and use the money saved to install the same drainage system on turf courses nationwide currently in place at Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, and elsewhere, and that the owners will guarantee -- in writing -- will eliminate the cancellation of turf racing for any reason other than lightning. Ten years this system has been in existence, and not once has the owner ever received a phone call from anyone in the horse racing industry! I ask you, sir: How is that even remotely possible, but for a Confederacy of Dunces steering the ship?
RockerB More than 1 year ago
Until we have national guidelines for drug dosages, the arbitrary and often petty jurisdictional mandates of state racing boards will continue to resemble the wild west where lynch mob mentality rules. It is all well and good for the sport to eliminate all possible perception of impropriety, but "zero tolerance" often comes off as mean spirited and sometimes results in a self-inflicted wound. Adopt the European model.