Sometimes good things come out of bad things. Such a thought might not automatically offer much comfort to the racing public in the wake of the recent steroids issue. No more so than it will for the BHA and its Chief Executive, Paul Bittar, who in recent weeks has experienced the full glare of publicity, not just within racing but on the national and international news stage.
But when the dust eventually settles on this very difficult situation some repercussions might, paradoxically, actually prove to be positive. It is not so much that the subject of drug use in racing generally, and the use of anabolic steroids in particular, will come under greater scrutiny than ever before; it is the fact that the wide variations in attitudes towards drug use in different racing jurisdictions is already becoming one of the key issues to fall out from these cases.
It needs support from the big players as they have the final say on where they will compete
Racing has long been part of the general globalisation movement that increasingly demands a standardisation of rules and regulations, not necessarily in the minutia but certainly on the big issues – and, yes, that means the use of medication and drugs, both for training and racing horses. Without this, there can never be absolute confidence that competition between thoroughbreds will always be fair and equitable, any more than we can be confident that horse welfare is treated as a priority. And, without this, we will never be able to dismiss any of the suspicions that are attached to a horse’s performance with absolute certainty, however fanciful they might appear.
To set an objective that all major racing jurisdictions throughout the world must adopt the same policy on medication and drugs may sound slightly more difficult to achieve than having full compliance to proposed European legislation, but getting everyone within the ‘world racing’ camp at least to support such an objective would be a first major step. Full implementation might take years or even decades, but the initiative would quickly achieve absolute transparency as to the policy of each member country and it would create an impetus for improvement, however slow and gradual progress might be.
To establish such a force for good in the world of racing would clearly require the support of the sport’s biggest owners, trainers and breeders – as much as that of any horseracing authority – for these are the people who have the final say on the conditions under which they are prepared to train and race their horses.
Perhaps, even, there is scope for something more concrete to emanate from the world’s major owners, trainers and breeders. With some international owner/breeders having horses in training in most horseracing jurisdictions and, with stallions, broodmares and stud farms spread around the world, even tacit support of such an idea from these top international players would go a long way.
A number of owner/breeders have put enormous energy and money into so many areas of British horseracing for decades – and, lest we forget, given an invaluable stability to a UK industry that would otherwise have surely sunk to a very low status – so a further lasting legacy would be to help to establish some form of international body that would pull all the strands connected to medication and drugs together and start the process of standardisation of rules and regulations throughout the world.
To appreciate how difficult it will be to put international racing in a better place with medication and drugs, you only have to look at the Americans’ recent reversal of their stated policy to make the Breeders’ Cup lasix-free, or the sort of heated reaction to criticism that came from Australia to concerns expressed about their policy to allow the use of anabolic steroids in training.
But the collective international racing world must at least be seen to be making efforts in this direction however steep the road might first appear. For racing is nothing without integrity.