TV Picks: 60 Minutes Sports: The man who tackled Lance Armstrong and the drug problem in professional cycling says the use of performance enhancing drugs in American horse racing has reached a critical point.
Travis Tygart, who heads the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has been approached by Congress and the racing industry to clean up the sport.
On the eve of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of thoroughbred racing’s famed Triple Crown, he speaks to Armen Keteyian for a story about drugs in horseracing on the next edition of 60 Minutes Sports premiering Wed., June 4 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.
Tygart says he has spoken to many people in thoroughbred racing who believe the proliferation of drugs has put the sport in serious jeopardy.
“I think it’s down to the wire,” says Tygart. If the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, now in Congress, becomes law, his agency will be ready to regulate and enforce drug use in racing, he says.
USADA did the same for the U.S. Olympic Team 14 years ago, says Tygart, so it can do it again. Back then, “We said ‘We’re going to set a plan…develop the rules… and then we’re going to build the capacity to robustly enforce those rules to insure that the rights of the clean competitors are upheld and the integrity of the competition is restored,”’ he tells Keteyian.
“I think you listen to the industry, [the drug problem] has got to be a 10 [on a scale of 10],” says Tygart. Many worry it’s undermining the sport’s image, harming the breeding process and putting riders and horses at risk. There is tremendous pressure to use drugs to win in a multi-billion-dollar business in which there is no national uniform code to control drug use nor a governing body or commissioner to rein it in, says Tygart. “The temptations are through the roof in this sport.”
The Water, Hay, Oats Alliance would welcome oversight from USADA. WHOA was formed by people like Arthur Hancock III, whose family has bred thoroughbreds since the Civil War era and whose farm produced three Kentucky Derby winners. The drugs commonly given to race horses to enhance performance is killing his sport, Hancock tells Keteyian. “We love the horses. It’s bad for the breed, it’s bad for the fans,” he says.
Hancock and his wife, Staci, say drugs can make mediocre horses winners, whose records are then the basis for breeding them and creating a bloodline maybe more based on the drug than natural ability. The drugs lead to shorter careers, too. Hancock says horses that are ailing shouldn’t be put on a drug and made to run a mile as fast as they can go. “In the old days, the farm was the therapy…and then they’d go back [to racing].”
The use of drugs has helped to end many a horse’s career prematurely says Hancock. “When I was a boy in 1950…you had an expectation that your horse was going to run 45 times in his lifetime…now, you know what it is? Thirteen.”
Keteyian also speaks with Phillip Hanrahan who heads the 29,000-member National Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association. He says there isn’t a drug problem in his industry, pointing to 368,980 drug tests taken between 2009 and 2012 that 99.2 percent of the horses passed. He says the industry does a good job of policing itself. “Could it be improved? Sure. But it’s not the Wild, Wild West picture that some would have you believe.”