Doping in Horse Racing is Big (Shady) Business

Joshua York, Sports Editor

(In)Famous Horse trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended 15 days by racing officials in Arkansas, after two horses he trained, including a Kentucky Derby winner, tested positive for having numbing agents in their system. 

The Racing Hall of Fame trainer will be suspended 15 days due to numbing agents found in two of his horses. One of the horses, Charlatan, a Arkansas Derby winner will forfeit his $300,000 winnings. While the other horse, Gamine will forfeit its $ 36,000 won in an allowance race.

On June 20, 2020 Gamine won the Acorn-Stakes in Belmont New York by nearly 19 lengths according to the New York Times, with a record time of one minute and 32.55 seconds.

The horses both tested positive twice for Lidocaine which can be used for abrasions and cuts; it is regulated in horse racing because it numbs the horse to pain, which has the potential to mask lameness in a weaker horse or allow a fast one to push even harder than they should.

In a hearing Baffert and his representatives argued that the horses were exposed to lidocaine by an assistant trainer, Jimmy Barnes. Barnes had applied a medical patch to his own back, the lawyers claim, which then was transferred to the horse from his hands onto a tongue tie, a piece of gear that goes through the mouth of the animal. 

These two drug violations were far from Baffert’s first offense according to public records compiled by the Association of Racetrack Commissioners International but his 26th and 27th violations.

Outside observers note that horses take months or years to train, so two weeks’ suspension seems pretty small.

The amount of money in horse racing (tens of millions of dollars each season in winnings, and even more in breeding rights) seems to encourage or allow some shady behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated with human athletes. After all, a horse can’t rat you out.