09/03/2004 12:00AM

American breeders should look to Germans


In its Aug. 16 edition, the British news weekly The Economist editorialized that since use of use performance-enhancing drugs is here to stay, Olympic athletes should be allowed to use them more or less as they please.

A week later, a number of readers wrote to object to the magazine's position, but one letter writer was inclined to agree with them, citing horse racing as an example of an American sport which, in his opinion, "has a liberal regime towards drugs with no detriment to the sport overall."

It is bad enough that many within the industry believe that to be the case, but for such misinformation to be spread to the general public is more than one can bear.

The letter writer exacerbated his misinformed opinion by writing that because "most racing-form guides indicate which drug a horse is taking," racing is somehow exonerated from the effects of raceday medication. This shortsightedness is typical of the kind of blinkers-on thinking that runs rampant throughout the American racing industry.

That raceday injections of Lasix and Butazolidin enable horses to run above their physical abilities is something many believe. What many people fail to perceive is that horses who win graded races on medication, i.e., virtually all winners of American graded races, then go on to stand at stud as stallions or, in the case of mares, are bred to such stallions. These sires and dams pass on the infirmities that have been masked by the medication on which they competed. The breed, instead of being improved through performance, thus develops a dependency on drugs, at least in the United States. Germany is an example of the opposite. In that country, no horse is allowed to stand at stud if it has ever run on raceday medication. Neither is a mare allowed to be bred to a stallion standing in Germany if she has ever run on raceday medication.

Given the modest resources of racing in Germany, where maiden races generally go for no more than $6,000, the bloodstock industry there is thriving, in no small part because of its medication policy. In recent years, Germany has produced international Group 1 winners Silvano, Epalo, Kazzia, Boreal, Borgia, and Elle Danzig, a clear indication that its drug-free policies are paying dividends in the long run.

Meanwhile, the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner was a New York-bred gelding, and if he is of no use to the breeding industry, of what value are the horses he was beating last year? This year's Derby winner failed to race beyond June of his 3-year-old season. Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, their sires and dams, virtually all of the horses they ran against, plus the sires and dams of their competition, ran regularly on raceday medication.

Is the lack of quality in Funny Cide, who has been exposed since last year's Belmont Stakes as a Grade 3 type, and Smarty Jones's susceptibility to injury evidence of the American racing industry's drug policies? You be the judge.

Early homecoming for Stevens

The quixotic Gary Stevens is back in the U.S.A. Stevens had signed on to be Andre Fabre's number one rider for the French season, which doesn't end until Nov. 30 at Maisons-Laffitte, so his early return home may be dependent upon what your definition of "season" is.

The American rider stated that the offer to host a television program was one of the reasons he left France early. Are such offers more important than sticking to previously made agreements?

This is not the first time that Stevens has backed out on such an agreement. In 1999 he parted company with Michael Stoute at the same time of the year after having agreed to ride the full British season for the trainer. Stevens may have showed his cards last week when he said he was "looking forward to the Breeders' Cup."

Could it be that Stevens never had any intention of riding in France past the end of that country's delightful Deauville season in August? Fabre is unlikely to have anything in the Breeders' Cup this year. It follows that Stevens will be in a better position to pick up rides at Lone Star with an early return to America, one similar to his early return from England in 1999.

Stevens also stated that both he and Fabre were disappointed with the performance of their 2-year-olds at Deauville, where juvenile racing has the same cachet that it does at Saratoga. If that is the case, Stevens must surely shoulder some of the blame. In mid-July, when Fabre was preparing his juveniles for Deauville, Stevens went on a two-week hiatus to get married in California. If Stevens had really been serious about his agreement to ride the French season, he could have found some other time to get hitched.

Stevens was also quoted in Daily Racing Form as saying that there may have been a language problem between Fabre and himself. Do not believe it. Fabre speaks near-perfect English, as I have learned in a number of interviews I have conducted with him.

Stevens rode 51 winners from 246 rides in France for earnings of $2.5 million, but none of his victories for Fabre was better than a Group 3. Fabre has got two Group 2 winners in France this year, one in the Prix Maurice de Nieuil when Stevens was on honeymoon, and one last Sunday, when Thierry Gillet on Cherry Mix beat Stevens aboard the Fabre-trained first-string Martaline in the Grand Prix de Deauville.

Stevens's departure also leaves British trainer Tim Easterby in the lurch. Stevens had ridden the Easterby-trained Somnus to win the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest on Aug. 8 and had been expected to ride the same horse in the Group 1 Stanleybet Sprint Cup at Haydock Park this Saturday.

Plato wrote that when two parties enter into a formal agreement, only the party that finds itself at an advantage has the moral right to reopen negotiations or break that agreement. Fabre may not realize it now, but Stevens's early departure will be to his advantage in the long run, especially with good young riders like Gillet and Christophe Soumillon ready to plug the gaping hole Stevens has left.