• Punjabi Girl wins The Fillies Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Sir Cecil wins The Colts Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
Posted By
: Chanakya Kaushik

Menace of Drugs- Part –I

    "Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,” commented John Scheinman in Washington Post on 27/4/2003… Veterinarians give them drugs to keep them on the track when they shouldn’t be racing.

"There are trainers pumping horses full of illegal drugs every day,” says a former Churchill Downs public relations director in MAXIM (may 2002) “With so much money on the line, people will do anything to make their horses run faster.” The New York Sun opined that because “thoroughbreds are bred for flashy speed and to look good in the sales ring … the animal itself has become more fragile”

R Dutrow, the trainer of Big Brown who won Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes has admitted giving Winstrol which was withdrawn before he ran in Belmont and ended in the rear rather than in front.

Makes me reminiscence… few reminiscences dating back to 90’s of last century!

Long ago- 22 years is a pretty long time in racing parlance, an editorial in ‘The Indian Thoroughbred’ in Jan ’91 gave the names of more than a dozen trainers (some of them dead now) of western India who were ‘offenders’ of drug abuse – more than 100 minor and major violations of the use of prohibited drugs were detected at that time. Again in 1994 the story was repeated and while 10 cases were reported for ‘drug abuse’ in western India after 900 samples were tested; none ( not a single) was tested positive out of 600 samples sent for test from rest of the racing centers(Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, etc.). The only exception was that while all the samples of western India were sent to forensic labs ‘outside’ India; all the samples from ‘rest of India’ were tested in India only! No more comments, because it happened in last century!

Now let us look at the realities of situation. A thoroughbred is not a natural breed but is a creation of humans. He can run faster than 70km/hour for a short spell of time and is expected to repeat or better the performance every time he runs. To maintain his fitness he is given better feed, food supplements and drugs to alleviate injuries, tiredness and sport related ailments. Drugs can be painkillers, multivitamins and also steroids to hasten-up the recovery for next race. Food supplements, vitamins and some painkillers are permitted by racing authorities but ‘performance enhancing’ drugs called anabolic steroids and some cortisones are prohibited because they temporarily improve or enhance the performance of a runner.

Why some (or many?) of the trainers use, with the tacit approval of the owners, these drugs?

As said earlier a thoroughbred (TB) is not a natural breed but is a creation of humans (homo sapiens )and therefore will have some shortcomings because the Darwin’s law of ‘ survival of the fittest’ is not fully applicable to him because they are not exposed to the vagaries of nature to survive.

More than 1300 in India , more than 35,000 in U.S.A. and if we take into account the worldwide produce more than 1,00,000 thoroughbreds(TB) are born every year and considering the racing life of an average TB as 5 yrs. Every year more than 5,00,000 TB’s compete for a prize money of more than 10 billion dollars at more than 500 racetracks round the year across the world.. But it is not the last word.

Greed and a desire to earn easy money forces human beings to use foul and fair means resulting in the cruel death of Aldyar (to claim insurance money), Phar Lap( poisoned by US mafia) , Ruffian ,Eight Belle and many more TB’s in USA and elsewhere.

As per official estimates USA wagers more than 15 billon dollars, Japan about 11 billion dollars, Australia around 8 billion dollars and all over the world including Europe and Asia more than 80 billion dollars are wagered every year on horseracing. This also includes a conservative estimate of about 2 to 2.5 billion dollar gamble by Indian punters on 8 racetracks, across India where about 3500 runners try to win a purse of about Rs. 70 crore (about 15 million dollars) from more than 3500 races.

Therefore, every year, in the horseracing arena , about 100 billion dollars( including the stakes) of easy money(?) is available for picking by some enterprising, clever, Intelligent ,shrewd gambler from a motley crowd of about one million hard core punters scattered around the world and about 2 million professionals- including syces and helpers… In India about Rs. 70 crores of stakes money and a wager of roughly 2 to 3 billion dollar is available to 10,000 hardcore gamblers and about 20,000 professionals including daily wage earners.

With this background information we can understand that the urge to make money by any means may /will overshadow and overwhelm all ethical moral and correct methods of winning a race and strengthens the opinion of a famous American critic that – horseracing actually has been reduced to a chemical warfare.

But why professionals – including breeders, use drugs on young juveniles?

Eclipse- the greatest race horse ever ran , never raced till he was 5+ yrs. Old. Today a juvenile is made to race, compete and win when he/she is 2+ yrs. Old and he/she is only 90 to 95% developed- physically and mentally. Many breeders claim that their produce are precocious – without divulging that they have been pumped with nutrients including anabolic steroids as well as cortisteroids –to look bloated, grownup, handsome, smart and ready to race.

A thoroughbred, does not attain full maturity till he is more than 3+ yrs. Old. In fact only as a 4 yr. old he can be considered as fully mature athlete. The remark of Jess Jackson, owner of Curlin – horse of the year(2007) echoes the mood , aspiration of an average owner/trainer.

“we ‘re looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s upper body and the we go for Don Knotts’ legs and knees…”...said Jess Jackson -owner of Curlin, the highest rated horse of his time. This horse Curlin was on steroids till he was 4 yr. old, has won Preakness stakes and was second in Belmont stakes . He was taken out of steroids at that age on the insistence of the owner and won too many grade one races till he was retired at the age of 7. He was one of the highest rated horse worldwide when he was sent as a sire at 7. This proves that continuous use of steroids does not necessarily produce a champion – a wrong notion propounded by the manufacturers of steroids to improve their sale. Though Big Brown after winning Preakness ended last in Belmont stakes when steroid (Winstrol) was withdrawn casts a doubt on this assertion. Appropriate training methods are more important than drugs to maintain a TB in winning condition. Many of my distractors may ask why am I using only USA examples- simply because, they are authentic, well documented, proven and well researched. Our Indian TB's drug related information is all hush-hush.

What are steroids?

Though crude form of steroids can be traced to Greek mythology, it was actually to rejuvenate the war weary soldiers of Second World War and the malnourished POW’s and Jews of concentration camp which were primarily given these muscle building, energy giving growth hormones. In 50’s European and Russian athletes started using them . the authorities caught up and banished many of them-the most famous athlete who lost his Olympic gold medal was Ben Johnson.

While some corticosteroids can be used as joint injection for pain all anabolic steroids are banned universally because they artificially increase, concentration of red blood cells ,muscle mass and development, body mass, skeletal structure etc. and enhance temporarily the strength ,endurance speed and stamina thereby giving undue advantage to a thoroughbred over his competition. Many times when the cycle of steroid uptake is stopped the horse starts losing the races and many examples can be cited to prove this though most of the analysts and experts blame the ‘loss of form’ for this . While Curlin with proper training, grooming and other factors was ‘weaned’ out of steroids some of our experts are not able to bring out some of the good animals out of this – specific names can be mentioned but what is the use. They are/were good when they ran during their prime - why they are not now? Who is responsible for their downfall – trainer or owner or both- or the human greed or some external influences…

No one can tell, except the one who pulls the strings.