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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
In search of greener pastures

By Paul Moran
Special to ESPN.com

Track riders head out for a trackwork session ahead of the Melbourne Cup.
Is Australian racing a model for the North American game to follow into the future?

Everything is better over there.

Racing in the rest of the world, where medication is prohibited for use on race day is pure as the driven snow. Trainers are far more skilled than their American counterparts. Veterinarians qualify for sainthood. Rules are stringent and dutifully observed in lands far away.

Everything is better over there. No Lasix. No bute. Nothing except hay, oats and water. They're just better than we are and, of course, no one colors outside the lines.

Australia is often held up as one of the mirrors into which American racing should look while beating its breast in apology for the judicial use of medication. Racing is probably the most popular sport played in the land down under, where it draws huge crowds to racetracks and the enthusiastic punters sleep soundly and safely wrapped in the knowledge that the game in played on the square.

Australia is often held up as one of the mirrors into which American racing should look while beating its breast in apology for the judicial use of medication.

On the square, that is, except for the use of EPO-type hormones and other "go-fast" drugs, the widespread use of which has been alleged by a group of Australian trainers and veterinarian sufficiently concerned for their safety and the threat of official retribution that they insist upon remaining anonymous while embroiling the sport in a tremendous scandal. They suggest that not only EPO but a variety of opiate-based stimulants are in wide use including Etorphine, also known as "elephant juice." They also claim that the practice of "milkshaking," delivery of a solution of bicarbonate of soda, sugar and electrolytes directly into a stomach of a horse, is being combined with undetectable variants of EPO, the oxygen-boosting hormone that alleged to have been the illegal substance of cyclist Lance Armstrong, the recently defrocked multiple winner of the Tour de France.

Now there's something we Americans should aspire to emulate.

Etorphine use came to light in the United States 30 years ago and is long gone from the cheaters' lexicon. Milkshaking, a more recent transgression uncovered at least 10 years ago, is no longer an issue.

Still, everything is better over there.

After all, the rules prohibited medication in every racing jurisdiction except those in North America. Rules are rules.

Of course, we should be more like them. At least they're not giving a benign anti-bleeding medication, like Lasix, to horses after washing down the elephant juice with a spiked milkshake.

Some embarrassed Australian regulators insist that all is well

According to the Herald Sun newspaper, which broke the story with a piece in which some "high profile" trainers described drug cheating as rife: "Racing Victoria refutes the assertion that EPO use is widespread in Victorian thoroughbred racing. We have a robust and active testing regime in place for both EPO and opiate-based stimulants and there is no evidence to indicate the systematic use of either within the state of Victoria," said Racing Victoria's general manager of integrity, Dayle Brown.

General manager of integrity, now there's a title.

We need one of those, too.

Remember, we should be more like them.

If smoke is generally a reliable suggestion of fire, the cheaters are out of control in Australia, but Lasix on race-day is not permitted.

God save the Queen.

In some ways, we're all the same. Oceans separate land masses but have no effect upon human nature.

"No doubt some fans won't understand why there are people in [the] sport who feel compelled to cheat, but the answer is depressingly simple," the Herald Sun said in an editorial: "Most high-profile sports are businesses and where there is business there is money to be made and where there is money to be made, there are people prepared to go to any lengths to get their hands on it."

If racing is also a business in Europe, where no medication is permitted on race day, may there be trainers and veterinarians engaged in illegal activity?

We've heard that theory somewhere before but assumed that it did not apply to horse trainers and veterinarians outside the United States, whose virtue is unquestioned.

So, if racing is also a business in Europe, where no medication is permitted on race day, may there be trainers and veterinarians engaged in illegal activity?

Ya think?

Of course there are cheaters in Europe. France is there. The notion that all is well with racing in other countries is laughable.

Those who sit behind desks demanding that American medication rules be brought into line with those in place elsewhere are pitifully na´ve. These are the same people who blamed an entire $9-million shortfall in Breeders' Cup betting on a savage storm that hit the Eastern Seaboard without mentioning a ban on Lasix use in races for 2-year-olds that rendered those races unbettable for people in the rest of the world. At least three 2-year-olds are known to have bled, though no official mention was made post-Breeders' Cup.

Before we aspire to be just like them we must identify exactly what they might be doing.

Perhaps they should aspire to be more like us.

Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at pmoran1686@aol.com.