Thirty lifeless horses at a California monitor. Federal indictments accusing greater than two dozen trainers and veterinarians from Florida to New York of doping their animals. All previously two and a half years.
Is there something the game of thoroughbred racing holds sacred?
On Sunday, we came upon: the Kentucky Derby.
Virtually as quickly as Bob Baffert introduced that his colt Medina Spirit had failed a drug check after successful the 147th operating of America’s biggest race, officers of Churchill Downs made it clear that if a second pattern confirmed the presence of betamethasone, a corticosteroid injected into joints to scale back ache and swelling, the colt could be disqualified and Mandaloun, the runner-up, could be declared the winner.
Apparently, Churchill Downs treasures the Derby’s standing sufficient to return down arduous on rule breakers, even one who has stood within the winner’s circle seven instances.
“I want to be optimistic about our sport however at present we’re a humiliation,” tweeted Graham Movement, who educated the 2011 Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. “Maybe we’ve got to hit all-time low earlier than issues get higher however we solely have ourselves and the leaders of our sport in charge. For anybody that loves the game as a lot as I do it’s a tragic day.”
Whereas the world waits for the second check outcome, anticipated within the coming weeks, the game is on to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes, the place Medina Spirit will attempt to win the second leg of the Triple Crown and one other Baffert horse, Live performance Tour, will attempt to beat him.
Nobody ought to blame Medina Spirit for this mess. He did what horses are speculated to do — run quick.
In actual fact, really feel sorry for him and his rider, John Velazquez, whose fourth Derby victory could be erased from the historical past books. Then once more, Velazquez might be astride Medina Spirit on Saturday, with one other likelihood to win.
Solely in a sport with no central authority and with haphazardly enforced guidelines might a deal be brokered just like the one Baffert made with the house owners of Pimlico Race Course, the host of the Preakness: Medina Spirit can run if he exams clear on a number of blood samples and his veterinarian data are discovered to be so as.
Baffert, the Corridor of Fame coach, declared he wouldn’t be in Baltimore as a result of he didn’t wish to be a distraction. Or so he stated.
In fact, he has stated fairly just a few issues. Over a interval of 72 hours, the coach first insisted that there was no approach Medina Spirit had examined optimistic, then blamed cancel tradition, mysterious contamination and racing officers out to get him, and at last stated, Oh yeah, we gave him the drug, however we didn’t know we had been doing it.
On Tuesday, Baffert acknowledged treating Medina Spirit for a rash by utilizing an antifungal ointment referred to as Otomax, which — to Baffert’s professed shock — contained betamethasone.
The failed check and Baffert’s evolving explanations have shocked informal followers, supplied punch traces to hosts of late evening discuss reveals and handed extra ammunition to animal rights activists who need the game shut down altogether.
“Have a look at the harm this has completed to our sport,” stated Arthur Hancock III, a fourth-generation horse breeder. “It’s hung a darkish cloud over horse racing and a darkish cloud over Kentucky.”
For greater than 30 years, the Hancock household was amongst a core of breeders and house owners who pushed the game to crack down on a tradition of doping that was enabled by lax regulation. One invoice after one other did not get out of Congress, because of reliably constant opposition — from horse trainers, whom the payments focused, and from racetracks that didn’t need the headache of federal regulation.
So what’s the fuss over a bit of treatment? A horse on painkillers might run all-out on an injured leg as a result of it doesn’t really feel the harm. When horses break down, there’s normally no bringing them again. In Southern California, 30 horses at Santa Anita Park needed to be euthanized over a six-month interval beginning in December 2018, inflaming animal rights activists and placing the game within the cross-hairs of regulation enforcement.
To say nothing of the danger to the jockeys, who go down when their mounts do.
Final yr, lastly, Congress handed the Horseracing Integrity and Security Act, which requires a board overseen by the Federal Commerce Fee to put in writing guidelines and penalties to be enforced by the US Anti-Doping Company. The company, which regulates Olympians and different elite athletes in the US, revealed the bike owner Lance Armstrong’s dishonest and issued him a lifetime suspension in 2012. The regulation will take impact July 1, 2022.
If the antidoping program had been in place now, this complete circus might have been prevented.
The testing labs would have met world-class requirements, would have been quick and environment friendly — no ready weeks for a second check outcome, as we are going to with Medina Spirit — and would have meted out harder penalties, particularly for ache treatment. Deterrents like rigorous and constant out-of-competition testing might need stored Medina Spirit out of the Derby beginning gate or ensured that he entered it clear. And Baffert, stained by 4 different optimistic drug exams racked up in a bit of greater than a yr, could be going through a 180-day suspension, in accordance with the baseline guidelines.
On the morning after Medina Spirit gained the Derby, nicely earlier than the optimistic check was revealed, Amanda Simmons Luby composed a tweet thread that was as prescient because the suspicions that impressed it are heartbreaking. Luby fell in love with horse racing as a bit of lady studying Walter Farley’s collection of “Black Stallion” books. As a younger lady, she entered the thoroughbred business, working within the stables of the Corridor of Fame coach D. Wayne Lukas, breaking in yearlings in Eire and dealing at a stallion station in central Kentucky.
She ultimately went to regulation faculty and labored as an legal professional, however she has returned to the game as a breeder. A really small breeder — she has two mares. Medina Spirit was bred by a girl with a equally modest operation and offered as a yearling for under $1,000. His present proprietor, Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia, received him for a tune, $35,000. However Luby couldn’t get excited by the colt’s victory.
“Wouldn’t or not it’s good to have a Derby winner the place most of the people is ready to have a good time the victory with out reservation?” her tweet thread began.
Her unease was with Baffert, who she acknowledges is personable and maybe the best coach of all time — with a file seven Derby titles and two Triple Crowns. However she couldn’t get previous his drug violations — 30 of them.
“I name it the Lance Armstrong impact, the place there’s motive to query the wins,” she informed me on the telephone. “We sincerely hope our champions we placed on this pedestal didn’t get there by illicit means. I’m afraid the Lance Armstrongs permeate our business.”
And if that’s true?
Seven days earlier than the general public knew that Medina Spirit had flunked a drug check, Luby knew how excessive the stakes had been.
“If this business has any hope of surviving, the plenty (each in & out of the game) must imagine the enjoying discipline is honest,” she wrote on Twitter below the deal with Welbourne Stud, the identify of her breeding enterprise. “ portion of us have grave considerations that it isn’t. And not using a well-grounded sense of equity, why spend one other dime on the game?”
For too lengthy, rules and good intentions have completed a distant second to successful. Let’s hope it’s not too late to flip that equation.