Lack of Transparency Reflects Poorly on the Game

POSTED ON  |  10-06-2021

Istock racing
There are moments that cling to the memory like stubborn lint. One of them is set in the Santa Anita Park press box—can't recall the year— while eavesdropping on a conversation among bright people about listing racehorse medications in past performances and programs, specifically bute and Lasix. Lou Eilken, Santa Anita's racing secretary at the time, was adamantly opposed. His argument? "The betting public won't know what to do with it."

He lost the argument, and as the use of both drugs became ubiquitous, Eilken's point became moot. As any kind of handicapping tool, published medication information ended up meaningless in comparison to, say, blinkers or bandages. If nearly every horse was racing with a dose of an analgesic and a diuretic, legally administered, the answer to the puzzle had to lie elsewhere.

At the same time, the cause of transparency was modestly served. As an industry, horse racing conceded that its equine athletes were getting a form of modern veterinary care that could be justified as reasonable and controlled. Lasix prevented exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage. Bute aided in post-race recovery. Attendance was up and handle was high. Life was good.

That was then. This is now, when there are dozens of racehorse medications deemed legal enough to be used in closely regulated circumstances. Suspicion is rampant, and demands of transparency fill the air. Some jurisdictions do transparency better than others, but in all cases with transparency comes serious responsibility. Dispensing information without context does no one any good. Regulators have the obligation to educate their consumers. They also must have the resolve—and preferably the legal backing—to own up to the information they reveal and keep a lid on the stuff that, if leaked, would jeopardize the enforcement of potentially serious violations. Into this mire was dropped the news that Medina Spirit , winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), produced a post-race sample that tested positive for the lingering presence of a Class 3 anti-inflammatory medication. Disqualification was possible.

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