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This Year’s Modest Proposal

In a discussion inspired by Joe Drape’s very interesting article about drugs in racing (legal and otherwise), Mr. Superfecta came up with a novel idea – why not create an event to showcase horses who can prove they are running drug-free? While we initially kicked around the notion of a nice mid-size track (for our own convenience, we liked Delaware Park as the first home for the event) hosting a day or series of races restricted to ‘certified organic’ horses. The long-term goal would be to have a major organization (e.g. the Breeders’ Cup) take the notion of drug-free runners and run with it. Here is how I propose to roll out the concept:

1) Local Certified Drug-free Races
In a pilot project, one track would modify their condition book to create races restricted to horses running entirely on hay, oats and water (or hay, oats, water and Guinness, if you prefer). Best practices for drug testing and initial incentives for owners and breeders would be developed at this time. Such incentives could be structured like something akin to a state-bred bonus system – beyond the official series of drug-free races, purses in other races could be augmented for ‘certified drug-free’ (or ‘100% organic’ if you require a catchy marketing name) horses.

2) Expansion of Incentives
After working out any initial kinks on the local level, the drug-free series could be rolled out to other tracks and with a larger pool of participants, incentives for breeders would also be built into the system. In addition to the cachet of having a stallion or mare who could be marketed as a success on the track without drugs, reduced stud fees could be offered to participating mares – with a higher rate for mares who did not take part in the program.

3) International Options
As the program continues to expand, closer links with other racing jurisdictions could be forged by creating win-and-you’re-in races for major races in Europe, the UAE, Japan – perhaps even Australia and New Zealand – places where drug-free racing is already the norm. High profile international horses could also be lured over for the drug-free race offerings, so that the US racing public could get a chance to see some of those stars outside the Breeders’ Cup.

4) Full Co-operation
The long-term goal is that the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown series would adopt the drug-free system, with the further intent that daily racing throughout the the US would follow the same guidelines. Given the lack of centralized control in American races, a piecemeal approach seems to be the only way to get such a system in place.

There is plenty of scope for revision and modification within this proposal and it is expected that there would be problems at the beginning as well as Brass Hat-style drug positives from previous therapeutic treatments (and drug withdrawal times for such treatments would need to be standardized to avoid such issues wherever possible), but it’s clear that the current system of vague, inconsistent penalties for illegal drugs doesn’t deter their use – the notion getting rid of currently-legal drugs like Lasix doesn’t have a chance in that climate. But it can be done – enough administrators, trainers, breeders and owners need to decide they want to make it happen.

Who wants to take the first step?

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