The Thoroughbred Safety CommitteeAlan Foreman - Chairman & CEO, Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Associations Inc.
Drug Testing: The Present and the Future
Stuart S. Janney III: Alan Foreman is now going to give us a horsemen's perspective on drug testing and the state of our drug testing labs.
Alan, thank you for being here as well…
Alan Foreman: Thank you and good morning, everyone.
It is a bit ironic that I am standing up here today as a speaker at this Round Table rather than sitting with you as an interested observer.
As some of you know, I left last year's conference unhappy and a bit perplexed. The focus, in part, was on the scandals plaguing other major sports arising from the use of performance enhancing drugs. I took particular exception, on behalf of the thousands of horsemen who dedicate themselves to the welfare of the horse and the integrity of our sport, to the suggestion that horse racing is consumed by a raging wildfire of illegal drugging.
I thought we had a positive story to tell and we could distance our sport from the others.
Unlike the other sports, we do not allow our athletes to medicate themselves for headaches, backaches, joint pains, broken bones and cuts on the day of and during competition to allow them to compete.
Except for the controlled use of Lasix, we are a sport that does not allow our athletes to compete with drugs in their bodies. We have a supposedly world-class detection system designed to deter anyone who would corrupt our competitions with performance-enhancing drugs.
We spend more money on drug testing than any other sport. We have dedicated scientists who test thousands of urine and blood samples collected from horses each day and who study the pharmacologic effects of drugs on horses, all in an effort to insure that our sport is clean.
However, there was a larger message conveyed here last year that I ignored. Polling of racing's core fans, done in the midst of the scandals plaguing other sports, showed that one-third of them believed that racing also had serious integrity problems and that illegal, performance-enhancing drugs was the number one problem.
We were warned that the lack of consumer confidence in the integrity of our product could cause irreparable damage. I dismissed this perception simply as a reflection of the time.
Not long after last year's conference, we moved in a highly publicized and somewhat controversial way, to restrict or prohibit the use of steroids. It was the right thing to do, but it exposed many of our problems, from drug use to drug testing and research. And then there was the Eight Belles tragedy. The ensuing furor unleashed every negative perception and stereotype about our sport. The reaction was visceral. In its wake, recent polling done of casual fans of racing, our core fans and those within our industry has revealed an alarming increase in the negative perceptions reported last year. And of those, the perception of illegal drugging is by far and uniformly their single biggest concern.
Yes, we are a sport that has and always will be confronted by those few who disregard the well-being and integrity of our sport for short-term gain. However, in the court of public opinion, which in today's world is the only thing that truly matters, the perception is that our sport is not clean. In today's world, perception is reality no matter how unfair or inaccurate that perception may be. We may think our deterrent system is effective but apparently many people think it's not.
I wasn't born yesterday. The negative perceptions of our sport have always been there, but not in the significant numbers that we are now seeing, regardless of how we defend ourselves. The simple fact is we are living in a different world than we have known. Communication is different: it is instantaneous and opinions are formed instantly. Standards and expectations are higher and the margin for error is lower. Judgment is no longer reserved. Perceptions are difficult to change. If our brand, our great sport, is to survive this rough patch and restore itself to its previous glory, then we have to substantively address the issues that concern our consumers and our fellow participants. It is expected of us. And we have to do it now because we do not have the luxury of time. Anyone in this industry who doesn't believe we are in trouble is in denial. We cannot talk our way out of our problems and we cannot take steps that are perceived as mere window dressing.
Can we reverse the negative perceptions of our sport, particularly as they relate to the perception of rampant and illegal drug use? Can we truly say that our sport is clean? I think we can and I am going to suggest to you how we can do it. But we had better move quickly.
The first step is to acknowledge today that we have a problem.
We spend approximately $30 million annually on drug testing, but that funding is spread among 18 different laboratories servicing 38 racing jurisdictions. The dollars are not spread evenly.
There is a wide variation among our laboratories in the number, quality and types of tests performed on test samples. Even our best don't have the resources to do the testing that should be done.
In 1989, when the industry was far healthier, we spent $27.6 million on drug testing. So we're basically spending the same amount on drug testing as we did 20 years ago, while much has changed.
The difference now, and for the foreseeable future, is that our federal and state governments are in economic free-fall. Our laboratories operate by virtue of written contracts with state governments, state or land-grant universities or through private companies who bid for our work through a procurement process that rewards the lowest bidder. As a result, budget cuts in the face of enormous deficits mean inevitable cuts for drug testing of race horses.
What politician would rather allocate money to drug testing of race horses rather than fund health care, education or taxpayer needs? What laboratory doing drug testing for horse racing right now isn't facing significant budget cuts?
This, in the face of an industry-imposed steroid policy that requires our laboratories to do a whole new level of mandatory testing without the funds or equipment to do it. Simply put, our system worked decades ago. It won't work now if we are intent on restoring consumer confidence in our sport without making major changes.
We have too many laboratories feeding off the same revenue stream. They are understaffed and lack the necessary equipment that will allow us to do what we need to do.
We have little, if any, research and development underway, nor are we preparing for the future generation of drugs, which may, in fact, already be upon us. For years, we have been consumed with concerns about tranquilizers and therapeutic medications that have been around for decades.
While we should certainly be chasing all drugs that have the potential to affect performance, there are a new generation of doping agents entering the world of sports unlike anything we have seen before - genetic manipulators, the body doping itself - and we are unprepared. We have neither the resources nor the mechanism to address this emerging threat.
This leads me to something that no one has talked about, but which poses a major problem for the future of our sport. The names Maylin, Soma, Tobin, Sams, Stanley, Lomangino, Strug, Hyde, Lorimar, Uboh to name a few, are synonymous with equine drug testing and pharmacology in this industry. They have been our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. They have been our scientists leading the integrity battle. They are the unsung heroes of our sport.
However, there is going to come a time when they are no longer available to us. There is no bench, no farm system, no talent pool waiting in the wings to do our critical work. We are unable to compete with private industry nor do others want to work within the constraints of government or university bureaucracy.
Basically, we are not giving attention to, nor are we training, the next generation of scientists to do drug testing and be our experts in blood doping, gene manipulation and other emerging threats.
Well, I think you get the picture. Can we truly make the case that our sport is clean, which, by the way, I think it is, or succumb to the perception that we are not, when we can't even forcefully answer the question because our system is flawed?
Does anyone in this room dispute the belief that solving these problems is critical to the future of our sport? If we are going to change the perception of our sport and if we are going to restore consumer confidence in our brand, then we need to take substantive steps and I suggest the following:
It is always an honor to be invited to speak at this forum. However, I didn't come here today to give a nice speech that my children and grandchildren can access in the archives of The Jockey Club's website. I am here because I want to make a difference and encourage change. I thank The Jockey Club Safety Committee for giving me the opportunity over the past few weeks to express my views on this subject. I am encouraged by their strong interest. I am also encouraged by the positive response from horsemen across the country with whom I have shared these recommendations.
Everyone in this room is the steward of a national treasure, a great sport, a great tradition. What began as a sport more than a century ago is now a diverse and dynamic industry that is a part of the history, economy and social fabric of this country.
But, we're in the 21st century and the world is a vastly different place now. We are clearly struggling to adapt, but we must. To do so, we must address these drug-testing issues now. I am willing to drop everything I am doing to make these recommendations a reality. I hope you share the same sense of urgency.
Stuart S. Janney III: Thank you Alan for those remarks. The committee agrees with Alan that there is a better way than the practices and procedures we are now using. We need to have a level playing field not only for our horsemen, but for our fans if we are to survive and prosper as a sport.