The Big Horses in America

As much as I like to write about my own horses, anyone who knows me knows I have plenty of opinions about racing in general, and particularly racing in the United States.

The American racing press (which is mostly online these days) has been abuzz this week with Big Brown’s victory in the Haskell and the decision to run Curlin in the Woodward at the end of the month, leaving a possible bid for the Arc, the premiere race in Europe, in the dust. Racing fans seemed relieved with Big Brown’s win and cheered Jess Jackson’s decision to put Curlin back on the dirt; both owner and fans were quick to proclaim Curlin a world champion. Americans have a way of doing that – declaring themselves a “world champion” without ever leaving their own country. Curlin did venture abroad once, to win the Dubai World Cup. That, apparently, was all the proof Team USA needed to proclaim world supremacy.

The trouble with horse racing is that it’s impossible to crown anybody “world champion.” The Americans call the Breeders’ Cup the World Thoroughbred Championships, but it is always run somewhere in the United States, with U.S. rules, which means drugs, and plenty of them. Some brave European owners venture to America, lured by the fame and huge purses on Breeders’ Cup day. Most of them, unfortunately, choose to dope up, because if they don’t, they feel they are giving the American horses and edge. A few have resisted and won anyway. Now THOSE horses are the true champions.

I’m sure Curlin is a fabulous horse, but I would love to see him run truly drug-free. Even though Jess Jackson has come out against the use of race-day medication, Curlin, like just about every other horse in America, runs with Lasix (and possibly other drugs; the use has become so accepted and permitted that most states no longer require reporting them to the fans). Race-day drugs are not permitted in Dubai, but insiders know that testing is….well, let’s just say selective. I’d like to see Curlin run in Europe, where he would most certainly have to run clean, to see what kind of racehorse he really is.

Meanwhile, the buzz about the two big American horses will continue, right up to the Breeders’ Cup. Racing authorities have made noises about limiting medications, and most taken the first and important step of banning steroids. But until ALL of the drugs are banned, there can be no such thing as a “world champion” horse.

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