The announcement by the British Horseracing Authority late last week of a ban on anabolic steroid use was more than a shot across the bow of the American racing, breeding, and sales industry. It was an adversarial move that rightly surprised most observers and clearly was intended to redirect attention from the problem of steroid abuse in Britain.

That this announcement was significantly a public relations move hardly needs debate. The provocative press release provided cover for the BHA to point a finger at a straw man while enacting sweeping rules for domestic steroid monitoring and prohibition that might have taken a good deal more heat if presented differently.

While steroids are not a new topic in sport, they are already well-documented among racers in America, most notably the public discussion of them during Big Brown’s run for the Triple Crown in 2008.

Amazingly as it may seem, steroid use was largely legal at that time, but that has changed. The sales companies, as one example, banded together to eliminate the use of anabolic steroids in sales horses, and since the new rules were enacted in 2008, there have been no positive test results for sales horses – largely yearlings – in Kentucky.

There is a good reason for that. The conditions of sale for the sales companies prohibit any auction weanling, yearling, or 2-year-old from being administered anabolic steroids within 45 days of sales, and if any animal tests positive for steroids, then it may be returned to the seller.

No seller wants to get the horse back. He is selling the animal, not wasting money on a critter vacation at Keeneland or Fasig-Tipton. Therefore, the sellers are going to avoid any use of steroids because it could invalidate their sale, depending upon the decision of the buyer (who could choose to keep a horse, even if it tested positive for steroids).

The absence of positive test results is a pretty strong indicator that sellers and consignors have taken the prohibition to heart and that they have given a wide berth to steroids in any treatments related to their sales horses.

They are wise to do so because the sales companies do not intend this prohibition to be a blunt instrument.

The sales companies put a lot of time and money into the study and testing associated with the issue of anabolic steroids. They had to do this because sales companies, both in America and everywhere else around the world, rely on the confidence of buyers. The buyer has to believe he is getting value, whether he is purchasing a $1,000 horse or a $1 million horse.

The standards of operation that a sales company enforces and that sellers and consignors follow are the things that form the underpinnings of buyer confidence.

As a result, the sales companies spent money in quantity to develop threshold levels for all steroids found in horses, both the natural and the man-made steroids. Development of those threshold levels took the most time because there is natural variance in horses. Some have more natural steroids in their bodies than others, and some eliminate or process man-made steroids at different rates.

So how is a testing agency to tell the difference?

They have to study, study, study. Then build some functional guidelines. And as a result of the time and expense put into this work, the labs doing testing on sales horses can tell the principals involved what the horse’s levels are for the naturally occurring steroids, as well as the man-made ones.

As a result, the buying and betting public are able to feel confident that the regulatory structure provides proper oversight of both areas of activity for Thoroughbreds. That’s good for the horses, for the sport, and for the people who invest so much money, attention, and affection on the animals participating in the sport we all love.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

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