The worldwide picture of medication use in Thoroughbred racing changed today. Australia has announced a complete ban on the use of anabolic steroids in racehorses, both in and out of competition.
Steroids are used in racehorses primarily to both promote muscle development and enhance performance. Those are the results that we can see, but these are powerful substances, whether in use by a bodybuilder at your local gym, a Major League Baseball pitcher, or a racehorse trainer. Anabolic steroid use in racing is believed to put both horses and riders at a higher risk for injury and accidents.
The substances in question are usually synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone; they are used to promote?protein synthesis, muscle growth, red blood cell production, tissue repair after stress and?injury and appetite to meet demands for additional nutrition.
Steroid regulations have tightened in most racing jurisdictions in the United States since an expose five years ago revealed that Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown competed on steroids, but lately the news has been global, as 22 horses in race training for Godolphin Racing Stable in England were found to have been treated with a product called "Sungate", which contains anabolic steroids.
Godolphin is the racing venture of Sheik?Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai, and races as many as 5000 horses in 12 nations around the world. As a result of the British scandal involving the Godolphin horses, steroid administration to horses was deemed a criminal offense in Dubai.
Currently in Australia, anabolic steroids are only prohibited in horses on race day but the new ban will apply to all Thoroughbreds from the age of 6 months with that period allowed in the interests of animal welfare.
"The ban on anabolic steroids goes far beyond any other racing jurisdiction?outside of Europe and was decided by the Australian Racing Board after lengthy consideration of veterinary and scientific advice and consultation with trainers' and owners' associations," ARB Chief Executive Peter McGauran said.
"The ARB has adopted a zero tolerance policy to the use of anabolic steroids in?competition, training and spelling and will institute heavy penalties for breaches of the ban."
"...The ARB believes it is in the best interests of the industry that they no longer be available for any purpose other than as a therapeutic treatment for young foals," Mr McGauran said.
"A new Australian Rule of Racing will be introduced on the first of November, with the?ban taking effect from 1 May, 2014 thereby giving 6 months for a treated horse to be free of anabolic steroids," he concluded.
The problem with steroid regulations, as with other medication and drug rules, is that racing at the highest level is an international game, and the rules vary between nations. In Great Britain and France, steroids are completely banned. Leaders in some nations have called for a uniform and complete worldwide ban on steroid use in racehorses, no matter what age or stage of training.
Louis Romanet,?chairman of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA), issued a statement today commending the Australian Racing Board (ARB) announcement.
In the United States, the Jockey Club announced a plan last month to make funds available to test Thoroughbred racehorses in and out of competition. Horse racing here is facing the potential of federal intervention; the proposed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act?would place racing medication rules under the jurisdiction of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which governs US Olympic athletes and cooperated with Major League Baseball over the steroid scandal in that sport.
While steroids are not banned in horses in the United States, they are not allowed in horses that are competing in races; a delay of 60 days is a typical withdrawal period for horses that have been administered steroids.
To learn more:
About Those Steroids and Big Brown (NY Times Rail Blog)
Investigation into the use of Sungate concludes(British Horseracing Authority)
Top photo by Tsutomu Takasu.