I saw a picture a couple of weeks ago of one of the winners of the Kentucky Derby thoroughbred horse race from back in the 1940s. What struck me was that the guy holding the halter looked kind of like your classic, shifty eyed bad guy, and the horse looked wired like he was on amphetamines.
Then not a scant week later, world famous trainer Bob Baffart’s entry into the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit, sprints to the lead and stays there the entire route to win the race, never once behind. Within a couple of days, it is announced that the horse tested positive for a corticosteroid called betamethasone at higher-than-allowable levels and could be disqualified from the win.
Medina Spirit was then allowed to run in the Preakness, which is the second leg of the Triple Crown, but fell behind, finishing third. Quite frankly it seemed with the added scrutiny the whole field just sort of clumped together, devoid of sparkle. It was not until the end that Rombauer sprinted to the lead. After the race, all the sports pundits were surprised because they had not even thought this horse had a chance.
Baffart has vehemently denied giving the horse the drug but then later said it was used as a topical for some type of skin issue. He claimed he was victimized, yet this is his fifth horse to fail a drug test in 13 months. It has been stated that his horses have failed drug tests 30 times over his career. It is not to say that he is guilty, but it does seem odd that someone of his caliber keeps having these issues.
The story goes that Justify, who won the Triple Crown in 2018, also failed a drug test in the race before the Kentucky Derby, the Arkansas Derby, and thus should have never been allowed to run. Yet somehow, he did.
This last week some younger trainers have expressed frustration that they feel Baffart gets treated differently than other trainers. He is at the top of the heap and has won more Kentucky Derbies than any other trainer in history. Likewise, he has two Triple Crowns under his belt after almost a 40-year draught. The various articles on the issue discuss Baffart’s power in the industry and the fact that he has a good legal team that appeals everything.
Horse racing ratings were in big trouble, and Baffart came in and saved the day by winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015 and recreating excitement for the sport.
Another famous trainer, 85-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, came out this week and said the drug samples should have just been poured down the sink and all charges dropped and that Baffart should not be treated this way. Lukas says Baffart is too good of a guy. Lukas is the first trainer to win over $100 million in purse money from racing.
I am not in any way accusing Baffart of anything, but there is an incredible backstory to horse racing. Many of these horses have been drugged in ways that one cannot even imagine, and it can lead to sudden death. Drugging began back in the 1800s with the use of newly legalized morphine and cocaine. Narcotic use began decades later.
There are many different performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and therapeutics being used today. Anabolic steroids like Winstrol (stanozolol) are still legal to use in 10 different states, although 28 states have recently banned them.
Some might recall the scuttle in 2008 around Big Brown running in the Triple Crown while on Winstrol. Perfectly legal at the time. Everyone was up in arms, but the fact is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Androgenic steroids such as testosterone, stimulants such as amphetamines and caffeine, diuretics and gastric reflux drugs are all used. Not to mention the rampant use of corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), and other hormones and blood builders such as human growth hormone (HGH) and Epogen (EPO) are used. EPO is what Lance Armstrong was convicted of using. The list goes on and on.
Add to this list masking agents such as lidocaine. Baffart was cited twice for horses testing positive last year, and he said it was accidental exposure. These can prevent detections of other agents.
Drugs can be stacked or combined in ways to increase their effectiveness. Natural components are often added to increase the potency. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are used to increase uptake of drugs.
Even something as benign as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, called the “milkshake,” if given a certain way can increase performance by reducing lactic acid at the end of the race and increasing stamina.
Is the sport of horse racing creating “clandestine alchemists” through doping? And the better the doper the more you win, and the more you win the more money you make.
Money is not just made through racing purses, it is also made through gambling, the sale of horses, fees to trainers and jockey’s and many other areas. More to come.