The New York Times broke news yesterday that horses that raced recently at Oaklawn Park, including a contender for the Belmont Stakes, had tested positive for a banned drug (lidocaine, a numbing agent) and the matter continues under review.
The horses were trained by Bob Baffert, a top trainer who is seeking a retest. The races occurred during spectator-less racing at Oaklawn and is not a happy occasion for the track. From the Times report:
“Nothing has come before the commission yet — we do not have the facts,” Alex Lieblong, the chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, said. “When we get it, there will be no delaying tactics. Anything we can expedite, we will do.”
Louis Cella, the owner and president of Oaklawn Park, said the commission was “grabbing the bull by the horns.”
“We will not have a situation like in California, where a horse ran in the Kentucky Derby after failing a drug test,” Cella said, referring to a test failed by Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner. “That was an embarrassment to the industry. We will push to have this cleared up by the Belmont Stakes.”
The issue arises during a time of increasing attention to the use of drugs in racing and horse injuries and deaths, particularly at a California track.
The news brought a statement from Martin Irby of Animal Wellness Action, which is pressing for federal legislation to increase regulation of racing and to ban race-day use of drugs.
I’ve had a long run dealing with lidocaine – it’s been used to cover up intentional soring of Tennessee Walking horses for decades. It’s unacceptable for lidocaine to be utilized on any horse to mask pain for performance. If a horse requires lidocaine to perform, then the horse should be resting and not racing.
Irby also said the Arkansas Racing Commission “is already considered the bottom of the barrel when it comes to horseracing integrity, and we hope they will take this case seriously.”