New horse racing chief calls cleanup of sport a “steep climb”

The chairman of the future horse racing governing body said the failed drug test of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit shows the need for a uniform set of rules and penalties instead of the system current sport patchwork.

In his first public comments since being appointed chairman of the board of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Charlie Scheeler said on Wednesday that the Medina Spirit case is instructive on how the sport should be run in the future. .


HISA is expected to come into effect in July 2022, although preliminary work is underway to “try to create a sport that is safer, cleaner and fairer for those we govern,” Scheeler said on Zoom. “It’s a pretty steep climb.”

Scheeler, a retired partner at a Baltimore law firm, worked as senior counsel for former Senator George Mitchell’s independent investigation into the use of performance-enhancing substances in Major League Baseball, as well as a Penn State Compliance Monitor with the NCAA and Big Ten on Athletics Integrity.

He focused on cleaning up horse racing, which is mired in its latest drug scandal.

Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone after the Kentucky Derby on May 1, and the split-sample test results announced by coach Bob Baffert’s attorney on Wednesday confirmed the drug’s presence. Shortly after, Churchill Downs announced he was suspending Baffert for two years until spring 2023, banning the seven-time Derby winner from riding or racing on tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

Scheeler said under HISA a coach would not be the first to report a positive test result, as Baffert did at a hastily called rally outside his barn in Churchill Downs a week after the Derby.

“We must have a system where it is the executing agency that describes what happened, what was the nature of the violation, what is its importance and what will be the sanctions that will be subject to the due process granted to the alleged offender, ”Scheeler said. mentionned.

He called the public “confusing” that certain levels of medication are allowed in some of the 38 US racing states and not in others, especially since horses travel and run frequently in several states.

“The public will know that the rules will be the same for every Triple Crown race. The tolerances, permitted substances and tests will be the same,” said Scheeler. “The system only works if it is communicated correctly to the public.”

Scheeler favors a tiered penalty system in races, similar to that of Major League Baseball which provides for different penalties for the use of steroids and amphetamines.

“Someone who has broken the rules three times should be punished more severely than someone who has broken the rules once,” he said.

The biggest difference between racing and other sports is that horses don’t decide to use substances unlike humans.

“There has to be more parentalism here because we cannot tolerate horses being given, for example, pain relievers to mask pain that could cause them to run beyond what they should be running,” Scheeler said. . “We have to make this sport safer.”

HISA plans to add an investigative unit to help enforce its anti-doping rules and “follow any rumors you hear in the barn or the syringe found in the stall,” Scheeler said.


“Some people don’t see it as if I have to play fair or not, but as a very cold cost-benefit situation,” he said. “We have to make them see that the cost, or the risks, outweigh the rewards.”

HISA officials met with their counterparts at the US Anti-Doping Agency last week.

“I am absolutely optimistic,” said USADA director Travis Tygart.

Scheeler has a long-term view of the potential impact of HISA on racing.

“One of the reasons horse racing has lost popularity is that many have been put off by the fact that so many horses break down,” he said. “A cleaner and fairer sport will also be a more popular sport.”

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Tommy Dodd

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