12/08/2009 2:16PM

Test This


There has been a smattering of negative reaction to the announcement by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that fewer of their post-race blood and urine samples will actually undergo the rigors of testing for illegal substances.

I say way to go, KY.

To be effective, a drug testing program doesn't needs to be a whole lot more elaborate than a "Beware of Dog" sign with the soundtrack from "Cujo" playing behind the gate. Every once in awhile, just for added effect, a pedestrian can be dragged in and beaten, then hung on a peg next to the sign, for public display. The family jewels will remain relatively safe.

The snag, though, in the presentation of the change came when the KHRC cited the cost-saving element to their new policy. Score another one for tone-deaf public relations. Saving a few bucks might please their masters in the state legislature, but horseplayers don't want to hear squat about how much it costs to protect their pari-mutuel investment. Now that they know it costs less in Kentucky, no amount of detail about the potential effectiveness of the revamped system will make them think they are getting more for less. But they are.

"It's not an unreasonable approach," said Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board. "Remember, all of drug testing is a deterrent. The McKinsey Report recommended something similar to this several years ago."Kinsey

I was momentarily confused, wondering what a study of human sexuality from the late 1940s had to do with doping recehorses. Dr. Arthur was kind enough to slowly repeat "Mc-Kinsey," and the memories came flooding back. McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm, was commissioned by The Jockey Club to give the rules of racing a top to bottom analysis in all 37 existing U.S. racing jurisdictions, with special focus on drug testing, enforcement, and penalties. The report, issued in May of 1991, was almost too compelling in its damning detail to be digested by an industry addicted to local rule and "the way we've always done it." But too much of the report made too much sense, especially in its cold-eyed comparison of medication procedures, policies and testing from state-to-state, a mish-mash of rules that was guaranteed to leave the consumer frustrated and confused. As for that other Kinsey thing, it isn't nearly as naughty as you'd think...now, Masters & Johnson, that's a whole different bag of tees. Here is McKinsey, in black and white:

Download McKinsey Report

Among other things, the report offered a model, national rule book and a list of recommendations that would improve not only the substance of drug testing policy, but also its perception by both horsemen and horseplayers. The passage to which Arthur referred in adjusting the number of samples tested reads like this:

"Animal Selection Policy. The industry should adopt a new system built around testing fifty percent of winners (rather than all winners) and other specific finisher categories. This would reduce testing volume while maintaining a high probability of catching offenders."

This is roughly what Kentucky has done, with a few variations, and they should be applauded. Samples from the 1-2-3 finishers in the Kentucky Derby will continue to be dragged through an intense testing regimen, if that makes everyone feel better. It will cost a lot, and if anything is ever found in the Derby more nefarious than a high bute, I'll buy everybody a hot brown. Stats have shown the vast majority of drugs detected by traditional collection and testing methods are of the Class IV and V variety, substances that are neither illegal nor proven to have any impact on the contest. These procedural violations--parking tickets--soak up the bulk of available testing funds. But in the end, it should not be about saving money. It should be about spending it wisely.