In the modern scientific era, it’s getting harder to understand why racing authorities demand a zero tolerance approach to drug use, at least within certain time limits. If we are getting better at building more complex drugs and even better at identifying them, it may also be desirable to work out exactly what they do and be more flexible in establishing policies about their use.
The latest episode comes from Queensland where Prednisone has been detected in scattered thoroughbred samples over the last year or so. First, two trainers were fined and their horses disqualified with loss of prize money, then another trainer appealed a similar decision to the responsible tribunal with a hearing set for two months time. After all that, several trainers were warned about positives, but now those cases have apparently been dropped by stewards. Everyone is hopelessly confused, and legal action against the authority is on the cards.
According to several qualified sources, Prednisone is an immunosuppressant drug used for humans, horses, dogs and cats for a wide range of purposes – to reduce inflammation, to counter the effects of anti-allergic reactions, or even to treat dog lymphoma. It can have severe side effects, including weight gain and muscle wastage. Although it is in the steroid family, there is no suggestion it might improve performance as such, or do anything other than help the animal overcome a health problem. Anyway, given those side effects, its use would obviously be classed as risky, especially if over-prescribed.
As a fan and a punter, it’s been good to see firm action being taken by authorities over the last two decades to get rid of go-fast drugs, or to thump trainers found guilty of using them. But to the observer, it makes little sense to see similar penalties applied to therapeutic drugs which can have no beneficial effect on a dog’s ability to perform normally.
Clearly, the missing link is a test to be applied to suspect drugs to determine whether they are capable of improving a dog’s speed or endurance. Even the much touted EPO barely fits into that category as it has never been shown to make a dog run faster than usual, rather only to bring it back up to its normal speed. However, it does help endurance (which is why the cyclists used it) and so it is properly banned. That action is justified because we have established fairly accurately what it does.
A difficulty with Prednisone, EPO or some other drugs, is that the body produces the same substances normally so it becomes a question of the amount rather than the presence of the drug itself. No doubt that has scared off Queensland stewards and contributed to their erratic actions. But it also calls for greater knowledge and more flexibility.
Just as an aside, it’s worth noting that the British parliament is currently investigating apparently false claims about the effectiveness of Tamiflu, a touted wonder drug to combat flu. Yet although the World Health Organisation accepted the original claims and governments began stockpiling it, subsequent reviews by independent scientists discovered that the public had been short-changed. Supporting clinical trials featured only those which favoured its effectiveness, while many others had been “withheld from doctors and researchers by manufacturers”. (See report in The Times by Matt Ridley, quoted in The Australian).
The same sort of confusion has developed more than once in evidence about global warming where there is an unfortunate habit of presenting facts which suit the objective and not considering those which run in a different direction.
To be sure, science can be wonderful but let’s make sure it works for us, not against us.
ONCE A JOLLY GREEN GIANT
Alan Windross, who passed away on Boxing Day, will go down as a key player in the development of modern racing practice. As General Manager of the former TAB Ltd in NSW, he had oversight of the rapid development of betting services to the wider public, initially via branch offices and then through club and pub outlets across the state.
Those outlets were in part a response to the universal drop-off in racecourse attendances, especially once SKY pictures spread racing across the country into living rooms and clubs in your local suburb. Just as well too, as they are the lifeblood of the industry.
Notably, Windross understood punting, not only as a betting manager but also having studied the subject intensively at university level. He was noted for making a habit of visiting betting shops on a regular basis to keep in touch. I wonder how many top executives do that today?
At the end of his reign, TABs were shifting into private ownership, and with it you could argue that also saw the start of a new corporate philosophy to concentrate on chasing the dollar, rather than to advance the sport of greyhound racing. There is a difference. Combing both is an art that is not obvious today.
In retrospect, consider the progress of access to betting facilities over time. First, only at the track. Second, at company-owned shops. Third, at agencies in pubs and clubs. Fourth, by phone or internet. Fifth, at touch-screen terminals. Sixth, on hand-held devices. Where next? The human element is gradually disappearing. So, too, is an appreciation of what makes the greyhound tick. It’s up to racing authorities to put that back into the system.
At Las Vegas airport, you can have a final pull of the one-armed bandit as you go to board your flight home. That’s where it ends (although it might depend on your airline). Today, fewer than half of all American greyhound tracks are still operating. The gallops are not doing much better.
LIES NEVER END
Some sparkling performances in the heats of the Devonport Cup on Tuesday included a smart win by Archie Gumballs in 25.74. It will also get the credit for a 7.95 sectional under the idiotic system used in Tasmania and copied on the GRNSW results pages (often late and without videos or running orders). The winner in every race is assigned the sectional time and it will stay there for evermore.
Allen Benji actually ran that sectional while the eventual winner was well back at that stage. Heaven knows what led the other heats because I did not see them personally. Just ignore all sectionals for Tasmanian races.
So how can you bet properly if you don’t have sectional times? Both Tasmania and NSW are scratching around for more money at the moment, yet sectional data in both states are either absent, unusable or sub-standard. Queensland, also cash-strapped, is pretty sloppy as well, particularly for provincial and interstate runs.