What’s at Stake in the Belmont
Published: June 2, 2012
The horse racing industry should be deeply shamed that extraordinary security measures had to be ordered to guard horses in next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes from the doping abuses engulfing thoroughbred racing. The horses will be kept in an isolated barn with visitors limited, feed and hay bales checked for drugs, and veterinarians and trainers under daily watch to ensure there is no manipulation of food or medication.
If anyone thinks this is an overreaction, they should take a look at the record of Doug O’Neill. He is the trainer of I’ll Have Another, the horse primed for the chance to be a Triple Crown champion after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Mr. O’Neill has a long history of racing sanctions and penalties for administering illegal and dangerous performance-enhancing concoctions. He isn’t an outlier. Of racing’s top 20 trainers, only two have never been cited for abusing medications.
For all the pageantry of the Belmont, the race should be heard by the industry as a blaring call to reform its practices with more forceful anti-doping measures and penalties, including a lifetime ban on trainers who are multiple offenders. This is being urged by the Jockey Club, the respected thoroughbred racing registry long dedicated to protecting the breed. It is the standard in Europe, where the sport is cleaner and the fatality rate for horses far lower than at American tracks, where horses increasingly have to be destroyed after being medicated beyond their limits.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month replaced the quasipublic New York Racing Association with a special panel of appointees directed to put into place stronger anticorruption protections. The change is long overdue. The association’s lax, trainer-friendly oversight has been clear across decades of scandal, bankruptcy and racehorse fatalities. Racing in other states suffers similar mismanagement, and they must either join to enact effective reform or face the prospect of federal control of the racing industry.
Mr. O’Neill denies ever doping racehorses. But late last month he received a 45-day suspension by California’s racing association for using an enhancer to improve a horse’s performance. The regulators’ commitment to clean racing has clear and cynical limits: they also postponed Mr. O’Neill’s suspension until after the Belmont Stakes.