Horse Racing: Big Brown's Owners Are Clueless

Janean MartiSenior Analyst IJune 8, 2008

Oh, the stupidity. Oh, the stupidity.

When the death of horse racing is marked by a tombstone, let's put the steroid Winstrol and the owners of Big Brown in the RIP line.

Neither Big Brown's owners nor certain veterinarians understand steroids. Oh, they can talk about muscle development under a steroid regimen, but they clearly don't understand that steroids also affect the brain (and therefore the personality and activity) of a mammal.

I breed hunting dogs who are required to work all day. They are bred for endurance and, to a lesser extent, speed. I also once was prescribed steroids by my oncologist in connection with chemotherapy of other drugs in an effort to thwart a sometimes fatal disease.

As a dog breeder, I understand I need to give each dog the necessary natural body, muscle and brain. I would NEVER give a dog a performance drug, including steroids. As a cancer survivor who was forced to take a prescribed steroid regimen, I understand what steroids can do to the body AND THE BRAIN.

When Big Brown's trainer Rick Dutrow gave Big Brown the steroid Winstrol, Dutrow essentially changed not only Brown's body but his brain. Dutrow made two mistakes:

1. Starting the steroid protocol in the first place. If you believe in the essence of breeding and training horses, you must understand the breeding of thoroughbred horses so completely that you do not need to use steroids to produce winners.

2. Dutrow suddenly decides to stop the Winstrol in April and then asks his horse to perform in the biggest three races in Brown's career. Essentially, Dutrow took away a form of heroine from the horse.

Dutrow gave the horse a muscle boosting, brain stimulating drug for most of his racing career and then abruptly took it away. The horse was not even allowed to be weaned from a drug that, through no fault of the horse, was pumped into him and changed his metabolism, his brain, and his very personality.

Shame on veterinarians who say Winstrol shouldn't make a difference in a horse's performance. If Winstrol doesn't make a difference, why would a veterinarian prescribe it in the first place?

There are ways to begin to address the scandal that is thoroughbred horse racing today. The age of horses in the Triple Crown races—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont—needs to be raised to age four.

To be eligible to be entered in any of the Triple Crown races, a horse must have previously placed at least fifth or better in two Grade 1 stakes as a three-year-old. These two requirements will give the Triple Crown series a true champion-of-champions scenario.

The U.S. Congress needs to reconsider the huge tax breaks given to thoroughbred horse breeders unless serious changes are made in the conduct of horse races.

Network television needs to understand people don't want to watch magnificent horses die, limp to the finish line, or be maimed by owners and vets who experiment with drugs.