The Week in Review: Tygart, USADA Out to Clean Up the Game

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We heard from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), its CEO Travis Tygart and the Director of Equine Science Dr. Tessa Muir last week when USADA released its anti-doping guidelines, rules and protocols. Once again, we saw that these are no-nonsense, dedicated people with a track record of cleaning up other sports. The release of the guidelines was an important step toward what will be a welcome change for racing–competent, dedicated policing from an outside entity replacing the current system, which just doesn't work.

(Quotes from this story were taken from Tygart and Muir's appearance on the TDN Writers' Room podcast and from Dan Ross's coverage in the TDN and his Q&A with Tygart and Muir.)

With Thursday's release of the details, there was a lot to digest. Here's what resonated with me:

(*) USADA is not going to rely solely on drug testing, which has been proven to be a woefully inadequate way of catching cheaters. There are always a number of potent drugs out there that can't be detected by standard drug tests. USADA may not have all the tools, including wiretaps, that the FBI had when it took down Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro and others, but Tygart made it clear that there are more ways to catch cheaters than just through drug tests.

“Can you bring a case if you don't have a positive test?” Tygart said. “In some states today, I don't think that's even possible under the rules. But if you look at Article Two of the rules, it identifies about 12 different types of violations. Only one or two of those includes a positive test. So possession, trafficking, complicity, attempted administration, retaliation against a whistleblower, those are things that can be anti-doping rule violations.”

He said that scientific evidence will be combined with “buckets of evidence”, much like what you see each week on shows like Law and Order and NCIS.

Tygart said they will also rely on a tip line that is already receiving calls. All of which is a step in the right direction. Neither Navarro nor Servis had any serious violations on their records that were the result of testing, which just goes to show that a lot more beyond testing needs to be done.

(*) USADA appears to understand the importance of going after more than just the trainers. It stands to reason that in most cases where performance-enhancing drugs are used, a veterinarian is involved. And what about the owners? It's hard to imagine they don't know what's going on when their trainer is wining at 30% and 50% off the claim. They should have to pay the price when their trainer is caught.

“When the horse is in training, the owner, the veterinarian, anyone else involved with the horse, they can be held accountable if they're complicit and part of a doping or a medication issue,” Tygart said. “The strict liability of the positive test doesn't apply to them. So there will be a slightly different way that this is prosecuted, but they absolutely can be held accountable under these rules.”

He added: “It's not just the trainer training the horse that has responsibility for this culture of a clean sport. Everybody within the sport should have a responsibility to ensure that it's being done the right way.”

(*) One thing that was not addressed last week was the obvious problem of having a trainer turn the stable over to an assistant once they are suspended. Life goes on largely uninterrupted for that stable with the head trainer getting what amounts to a vacation. There's not nearly enough of a deterrent here. At least with the more serious violations, the stable should be penalized along with a guilty trainer.

(*) USADA is going to rely heavily on out-of-competition testing and trainers must let USADA know at all times where a horse is located. He also said that out-of-competition tests won't be done on a random basis. For obvious reasons, the focus will be on trainers whose results suggest they might be using something to get an edge.

“It's what we call intelligent testing,” Tygart said. “It's not random. Some call it smart testing. Some call it target testing. We will use data.”

(*) You might want to call this one the “Baffert Rule.” While USADA will distinguish between violations that involve performance-enhancing drugs and overages of therapeutic medications, Tygart believes that there is a point where enough is enough when it comes to overages. Four minor infractions or therapeutic overages within five years could result in a sanction of up to two years.

(*) Just because a horse passes post-race urine and blood tests doesn't mean that they can't be caught later on. If someone uses something illegal and a new test for that substance comes around after the fact, they could get nailed. This is another welcome development.

“We will have the ability to do what is called retrospective testing,” Tygart said. “Samples will be put into storage. And then when you develop new tests in the future, we're going to be able to bring those samples out of storage and actually then analyze them with the new methodology for those prohibited old-time substances. That's also a great deterrent to people using things where they say you can't detect it. But in the future, when those technologies and the capabilities are enhanced and changed, then we can go back and you will still be subject to sanction (for a positive test).”

(*) More than six months after the race, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has still not acted when it comes to this year's GI Kentucky Derby and the reported betamethasone positive on winner Medina Spirit (Protonico). That, Tygart said, will not happen after USADA takes over.

“I was pretty stunned to hear that (Medina Spirit's) Kentucky Derby case hasn't been resolved yet,” Tygart said. “That's not going to happen on our watch. I mean, it's crazy that it's taken that long to get to a final resolution, particularly when someone is competing the entire time.”

Lawsuits have been filed by horsemen's groups and six states to shoot down the Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act (HISA), which is what created the need for a new method of policing the sport, and USADA has yet to sign a contract with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. Both factors could mean that the projected start date for HISA, July 1, 2022 will not be met.

But if and when HISA goes into effect, USADA will be ready. Tygart called the new rules a “gold standard program for the industry.” He's got that right. It's time for a new era.

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