Horse Racing Reflections Part 1: To Blood Test or Not to Blood Test?

Randomized blood testing in horse racing has as many implications on the track as it does at the betting windows.

Updated: Sept. 19, 2018 • 9:57 AM ET

Horses are subject to random testing like athletes in other sports.

I waited patiently this past summer. All year, I watched video, handicapped and bided my time as possible turned to probables. Once the official racing card was released, I licked my proverbial chops like one of those ravenous cartoon characters, knife and fork in hand. I knew the horse was headed there, and my suspicions were confirmed.

That morning, I calculated the time change and arrived right when the gates opened at my local track. I went through my checklist. Not drawn along the stand side rail at Ascot? Ok. The turf, not overly soft, good for this time of year? Check. The tote, 6-1 odds, a gift for such a powerfully classed horse. And, he looked fine in the paddock, saddling ring and during warmups.

I believed in jockey Oliver Peslier, even more than Harvey Dent. After all, he rode Goldikova (come on). I went to the track early and planned my wager — winning bet all the way. John Conte, the sage of Northeastern tracks and a previous winner of the National Handicapping Championship, always says, “It’s about winning, nothing else.” So, if you like a horse, play it to win. The TVG crowd liked him? I shake my fist at that lot.

It’s the first race at Royal Ascot; her majesty the Queen is there, as she has been for more than a half century. Pageantry, sunshine, and the grandstand glistens in the afternoon west of London. The Queen Anne is always the first race of what will be five days of magnificent racing in mid-June. Even NBC will cover it.

I clutched my ticket. I was ready. They were off.

I’d like to tell you that Recoletos won, three lengths or five. I’d like to report that I watched trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias raise his fist in the air to confirm what I already knew: this was a great horse. Sadly, horse racing, much like life, doesn’t go as planned. Normally, unless you have some kind of Martha Stewart-esque insider information, you really never find out why the horse you picked didn’t run well. Those that dislike the sport claim that proves something is afoot; it must be fixed. Someone I know always tells me after I lose, “Well, you cannot ever predict what a horse will do.” She’s probably right, but I say that begrudgingly.

Last week, I trolled The Racing Post, one of my favorite European and international horse racing sites. I heard that Recoletos had finished second in a big race, and I wanted to see where his connections were pointing him next. It looked like he was headed back to the continent to run in a highly-graded G1 race at Longchamp. And, then I saw it. His trainer, Laffon-Parias, held a press conference and reveled that about an hour before Recoletos entered the saddling ring at Ascot back in June, he was subjected to a randomized drug test by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). According to the trainer, this caused him all kinds of distress and was the cause for his deplorable showing.

Questions abound. How should I react to this news? If I had known that he was being subjected to this test, would I have wagered on him? As a member of the betting public, don’t I have a right to know about such an occurrence?

My initial reaction was somewhere around the steam coming out of the ears. I was angry, but then I began to think about another question entirely: isn’t randomized drug testing of race horses a good thing?

The short answer to that is, yes; with the caveat of, if it’s done correctly. BHA and like-minded, country-driven organizations that govern the sport within their borders are trying desperately to stamp out corruption. In Britain since 2015, testing is way up with over 700 random tests administered in 2017.

On top of this, the BHA cannot tell the public or the connections of each horse when they are coming. Also, you cannot take samples after the race, the reason being that some substances become undetectable. So, to catch the dopers, organizations have to be arbitrary in their approach, which is essential.

In actuality, I’m not against the testing of Recoletos. As long as it’s not targeting a certain horse or trainer unduly and the system remains true to the sport, I’m a supporter. After all, horses cannot speak for themselves. If those athletes could voice their opinions, they probably wouldn’t be doing something as inane as running around an oval. Let’s face it, we owe them to not put their health in jeopardy. More needs to be done.

The international horse racing community has actually been quite progressive concerning testing. Where organizations need to step up are not in Japan, the Middle East and Europe, but as I will argue in next week’s piece, America. Our thinking on this subject is quite disappointing, especially concerning the so-called medication known as Lasix. If we don’t begin to change, the sport, its image and the animals could be doomed to failure.

As for Recoletos, maybe his trainer was wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t the needle. Maybe it was a shiny coin that was dropped on the ground, or the shouts from some spectators. We’ll never know. All I can say is, I’ll be rooting for him on October 20 when he returns to Ascot to run in Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Go get ‘em fella!

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