Big Brown's owners are leading the charge in cleaning up horse racing when they announced Sunday that they would immediately begin withdrawing all steroids and any unnecessary medications from their horses. "Immediately" is a bit of a misnomer since the ban will be in place October 1st, conveniently after Big Brown's next race, August 3rd in the Haskell Invitational. This action is on the heels of Congress raising serious doubts that the sport can govern itself as currently constructed and considering adopting a national authority to oversee the sport.
Michael Iavarone, a co-president of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings (IEAH) which owns Big Brown among other horses, said that the more than 50 horses owned by his stable would be drug free by Oct. 1, and to quell speculation of roided up horses, that they would pay for tests to be administered by state or track veterinarians before and after each of their races to prove it.
He's confident that his stable does not need the juice to be successful out on the track. “I know Big Brown or any of our horses do not need this stuff to win,” he said. “I’m not worried about an uneven playing field, either. The cost of the drug tests are a small price to pay for the integrity of the sport. I’m urging other owners to join us, and let’s turn the game around.”
Controversial trainer, Rick Dutrow, is on board with the self-imposed ban on all medications perceived to be performance-enhancing. However, not all PED's and medications are off the table. The stable’s horses will continue to run on the legal anti bleeding medication Lasix when necessary.
IEAH might not have won the Triple Crown, but they struck gold when they brokered a deal to sell Big Brown’s breeding rights for about $60 million. For a relatively new outfit, IEAH has had quite a bit of success. So far in 2008, their stable has won more than $5.7 million in purses and won at a 23 percent clip. Bolstering their claim that their horses do not need the juice, they have won in Dubai, where the rules against drug use are the most stringent in the world. Dutrow, in written testimony submitted to the Congressional subcommittee last week, cited his horses’ victories in two $1 million races in Dubai as evidence that his horses could thrive in a drug-free environment.
Losing the Triple Crown was costly to IEAH. Besides the controversy of whether or not Big Brown is a "chemical horse", Iavarone said that performance cost at least $50 million in the breeding shed and in future marketing deals.
Just how costly was the Belmont? Try $60,000 - $125,000 per breeding session. According to the New York Times, "if Big Brown, a bay colt, never raced again, he might attract $40,000 to $75,000 for a breeding session versus the $100,000 to $200,000 he would have earned as a nobly defeated Triple Crown challenger or the 12th horse to sweep the series".
A novel twist to just going drug free for your stable was Iavarone's suggestion that racetracks and Daily Racing Form print in their programs that horses owned by IEAH, and any owner who adopts the policy, be listed as drug free. From a punishment standpoint, Iavarone also said that if any of his horses failed a drug test that IEAH pays for, the company would return the purse money. No word on what the punishment would be if a horse failed a drug test that IEAH did not pay for.
Whenever Congress gets involved in any one's business, that's when participants start circling the wagons. A few good ideas in this proposal and the glaringly obvious conflict of interest issues need to be addressed. Nice p.r. stunt to be an "early adopter" and "on the cutting edge" of drug testing and PED's in the sport. There is some history to back up IEAH and Dutrow's claims that they both won under the most stringent drug testing circumstances. Why not institute this policy before your most famous horse, Big Brown's, next race? The speculation will just continue to rise if Big Brown wins at the Haskell.
Given the conflict of interest, the general public will not buy that this process is being handled independently. This is exactly why Congress got involved and felt that the sport cannot police itself and is leaning to create a national, independent governing body. Nice try IEAH, a step in the right direction, but too little, too late and I'm not buying it.