Big Brown’s Belmont Bust or Breakout?

You might not believe this: I once seriously considered going into the racehorse business. So much so that while other young women received gift certificates or jewelry to mark the rite of passage known as high-school graduation, my parents gave me a trip to the Kentucky Derby. Sitting in a private box right on the finish line, I was in horsy heaven that day swaying mint julep glasses in the air to mark time to My Old Kentucky Home.

Even though I didn’t go pro, I rode competitively for many years, until work and family eventually retired my custom-made Cordovan brown boots and trusted German saddle.

Every year, while most of you flip out over football, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, and baseball, I wait patiently for the first weekend in May. For the Kentucky Derby. It is sheer magic to me. I can remember when Secretariat won the Triple Crown as if it were yesterday. No Hindu sadhu ever achieved greater glory than when Big Red won.

My hopes rose for Big Brown, until in escalating horror, I listened during the television broadcast to reports of the trainer’s techniques. What shocked and disturbed me pre-race was the news that the colt’s trainer Rick Dutrow took the horse off steroids to “prove” he didn’t need them.

What? Steroids? The horse was on steroids?

What is it that some people aren’t getting about steroids? With a little search on the web and an April 26th, 2008, article from the New York Daily News reported on a Congressional hearing about just this subject.

“Trainers and vets make the decisions, and the horse cannot say no,” Rep. Whitfiled of Kentucky told the panel. “England, France, all of Europe, Japan, South Africa, Dubai, Australia: All of the major racing jurisdictions have banned the use of drugs still commonplace in America. England, for instance, banned steroids in racing over 30 years ago.”

Of course Big Brown blew the race. He was flat as a doornail. He was coming off drugs.

By the way, Newscasters, when a horse poops on the way to the starting gate three times (that’s just what I could count) from the TV screen, that’s excessive. I don’t care how calm you think he was. That much relief in that short of time is unusual. He wasn’t calm. He was hung over. The poor horse was probably constipated until the excitement of the race adjusted his innards. No wonder, he didn’t feel like running. He felt like hell.

As much as I’d like to wring the trainer’s neck for cheating by putting the great animal on drugs in the first place, at least the jockey had the leadership mojo to pull Big Brown up when he saw how south things were going for his mount. That was the ethical thing to do.

I’m not mincing words. Putting a horse on steroids or other drugs to run a race is cheating. If it’s not illegal, at the least, it’s immoral and unethical. The good news about this race is how it has brought the practice of using drugs to win races to public light. It’s the silver lining before more horses are ruined unnecessarily.

Okay, I’m open to you comments. What do you guys think?