EDITORIAL: Test shows despite reforms horse racing is still vulnerable to cheating

Mario Gutierrez aboard Nyquist (purple) races Florent Geroux aboard Gun Runner (right) during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs. Nyquist, the favorite, won. Gun Runner finished third.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mario Gutierrez aboard Nyquist (purple) races Florent Geroux aboard Gun Runner (right) during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs. Nyquist, the favorite, won. Gun Runner finished third.

Sunday’s announcement that the winner of the Kentucky Derby had tested positive for a steroid is a double-edged sword for the horse-racing industry.

It’s negative because it shines an unwelcome spotlight on the industry’s doping problem.

And it’s positive because it shines an unwelcome spotlight on the industry’s doping problem.

On Sunday, it was revealed that Medina Spirit, trained by Hall-of-Famer Bob Baffert, had tested positive for the anti-inflammatory corticosteroid, betamethasone. The drug won’t turn Mr. Ed into Secretariat. But it can mask injuries and allow the horse to run through pain.

The steroid is not illegal in Kentucky. But it can only be administered 14 days or longer before a race under tougher new standards adopted last year.

The release of the test results reveals that the state’s system for testing works, is transparent, and doesn’t indulge in favoritism toward the sport’s most wealthy, influential and popular figures.

That in itself should instill some public confidence that the racing industry is taking seriously its role to police itself.

With the start of the 2021 Saratoga meet just over two months from now on July 15, the revelation also serves as a reminder that racing is not yet clean of its vices, and that the public and government officials must demand vigilance to protect the animals and the integrity of the races.

Federal legislation passed last year will provide more independent oversight and uniform national safety and competition standards. But the law doesn’t go into effect until 2022. Given the industry’s past record, it can’t take effect soon enough.

This also shows that if there is a chance to gain an edge, someone will try to do it.

Baffert, who claims the steroid was an ingredient in a skin ointment used on the horse, has been caught several times with horses under his tutelage testing positive for some kind of drug. Further investigation will determine whether Baffert’s explanation is plausible or laughable.

Just don’t fall for the nonsense that Baffert is being picked on because he’s famous and that others are jealous of his success. Labs can’t target trainers by falsifying positive drug tests.

And don’t buy into the claim that this is some kind of cancel culture or the Deep State or whatever excuse people come up with these days to deflect blame for their misdeeds. That’s a phony distraction.

This is a multi-billion-dollar industry in which people sometimes cheat to win big money, at the expense of the health of the animals they make their living from and the fans who support them with their bets.

If there’s a lesson to be had, let it be that until significant reforms are in place, no race, and no horse, is safe from tampering.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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