“There is a ‘zero tolerance’ of the use of anabolic steroids in British Racing.”
The first line in the new British Horseracing Authority (BHA) steroid policy cuts right to the heart of the matter. Paul Bittar, CEO of the BHA, and the team of experts that developed this policy are to be commended for their aggressive and comprehensive action on this matter.
Under the policy, well summarized by TRC editor Chris Smith yesterday:
- A horse must not be administered an anabolic steroid at any point in its life
- Any horse administered an anabolic steroid will face a mandatory stand down period from training for 12 months and ineligible to start in any race in Britain for 14 months.
- All horses must be available for testing at any time, regardless of physical location and whose care the horse is under, from the time it is first registered with Weatherbys until it is permanently retired from racing
The BHA’s decisive action on steroids once again illustrates the advantages of a central authority that controls all aspects of Thoroughbred racing.
The British policy also sheds light on the woefully inadequate system in the United States, where there is no central authority for developing medication policies and penalties.
Regarding steroids in the U.S., model rules were recommended by the Racing and Medication Testing Consortium (RMTC) and adopted by the RCI (Racing Commissioners International), and subsequently approved in most racing jurisdictions. The rules generally provide for a 60-day withdrawal period for exogenous anabolic steroids, and virtually all testing is done in the post-race environment. Similarly, regarding testing at horse sales, there is generally a 45-day withdrawal period for weanlings and yearlings sold at auction, and the request to test is generally made by a buyer after the fact – that is, sales companies aren’t testing to see if entrants are steroid-free.
There is effectively no out-of-competition testing for steroids in the U.S. There is a generally accepted view and practice that anabolic steroids can be administered to horses for “therapeutic” purposes. Taking steroids for “therapeutic” reasons isn’t acceptable for human athletes, why should it be acceptable for horses?
Here in the U.S., we can debate the merits of Lasix until the end of time, but the same patchwork process that limits our progress on that issue also keep many more sinister substances in the rotation. The BHA has gotten it right. No steroids in any race horse, ever, and authorities have the right to test anytime, anywhere. If only we in the U.S. were capable of following suit.