If Big Brown Can Do It…

Published: June 23, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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“I know Big Brown or any of our horses do not need this stuff to win.  I’m not worried about an uneven playing field, either.”

In a brief but significant statement, Michael Iavarone, co-president of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings just raised the bar for the rest of horse racing.

Not only would more than 50 horses owned by his stable be drug free by October 1, but Iavarone would be willing to payfor any tests administered by state or track veterinarians before and after any and all races!

“The cost of the drug tests,” Iavarone said, “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.”

Before the Belmont Stakes, racing’s third leg of the Triple Crown, Big Brown was the heavy favorite to win.  When the horse not only failed to win but pulled up around the final turn and finished last, racing enthusiasts began to wonder what went wrong.

Rick Dutrow, Big Brown’s trainer, said that the horse had been receiving steroid injections in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness – both races where the horse finished first.  That statement coupled with the weak performance in the Belmont raised concerns that the previous wins could, in fact, be the result of performance-enhancing drugs.

According to a (June 23) story in the New York Times, “…a Congressional subcommittee lambasted the sport for lax drug policies, faulty breeding and an emphasis on greed over transparency.

“One member after another told witnesses, who included owners, breeders and veterinarians, that if they did not clean up their sport, Congress would reopen the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, which provided the legal basis for wagering on horse races across state lines. Last year, such wagering accounted for 90 percent of the $15 billion wagered on thoroughbred races.

“I was moved by the hearing,” Iavarone said, “and I saw one witness after another say they wanted zero tolerance on drugs. Someone has to take the first step. We want other owners to join us immediately. Racing can’t wait for state laws or house rules or Congress. What we have to get this done is the integrity of the people involved in the sport.”

Clearly, you could make the case that Mr. Iavarone was also “moved” by the fact that congressional action could make the sport a lot less profitable.  Still, you have to give him credit for being the first owner to step forward and pledge zero use of performance-enhancing drugs.  It will be interesting to see who else follows his lead.

Now if we could get baseball owners and the players union to make a similar pledge, think of the positive effect it would have on the image of America’s Past Time.

Who wants to step up first?


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