Smile Politely

Sabotaged: The Underbelly of Steroids in Horse Racing

If some people have all the luck, then somebody’s gotta get what’s left.

For over two and a half decades, Larry Jones’ horses have passed spotlessly on drug tests. The trainer says he hasn’t used steroids since 1997. After his Kentucky Derby filly, Eight Belles, broke both front ankles while galloping out after the race, the trainer was immediately put underneath the magnifying glass. To quell the radical accusations that he’d “made” the filly large by pumping her full of steroids, Jones had the veterinarian perform an unnecessary autopsy on her to prove he had nothing to hide. As expected, the tests resolved the trainer’s innocence. But that’s hardly the end of the story.

Outspoken since Eight Belles’s death about drugs in the racing industry, Jones has become a bane for two opposing crowds: radical animal rights cult, PETA, and even other horse trainers. And while PETA has no grounds to say “boo” to Larry Jones or his connections, the people in the racing industry have a different outlook on Jones’ campaign to ban drugs.

Not every trainer has had as clean of a record as Jones, and some make a practice of giving their horses several different medications regularly. In addition, some are not as moral as Jones and will race their horses when they shouldn’t be, using drugs to mask pain and unsoundness. Some people will do anything to get in the money.

Jones has the reputation of never letting a horse step foot on a track unless he is sure that horse is completely sound and fit. Watching him in the barn or in the backstretch, it’s clear he cares about his horses as if they were his own children. For those who watched Jones riding Eight Belles the morning of the Derby, that picture of contentedness and pride will not soon be forgotten.

In short, he makes some of these trainers look bad. Jones has called for nation-wide regulations on drugs, wishing for each state to have the same laws. In doing so, he has ruffled somebody’s feathers at Delaware Park.

After every race, entrants are given a customary drug test. On June 8th 2008, a horse named Stones River won an allowance race at Delaware Park and tested positive for an overage of clenbuterol, a bronchial dilator. Stones River is owned by Jim Squires, a man who’s also been vocal about his distaste for race-day medication. The horse is trained by Larry Jones. It’s the first drug violation of both the trainer’s and owner’s career.

“The thing is, somebody got us, no ifs, ands, or buts,” Larry Jones told the Daily Racing Form. “Is it just a coincidence that it’s [Squires’s] horse and me at this time? Yeah, right.”

Sabotaged. Sadly, a very real and disturbing dark side to the racing industry. How many times has a marauder stuck a needle into a horse only to steal into the shadows, unnoticed, except for the horse, who’s not talking? And since Larry Jones didn’t have a Big Brown in his barn, there was no fixed security guard to keep watch over his horses. There will likely be one now.

Just weeks after Jones sat down to an interview with Blood-Horse, speaking about his views on trainers who abuse the medication rules, “I’m very much in favor of harsher penalties,” and what he thinks about trainers who get away with violations, this recent development is a little too ironic. It’s clear that somebody wants the trainer to stick a sock in it.

On the outside, Jones appears to be a tough-necked cowboy. These latest events have shed light on what a caring and intelligent person dwells inside. After the disappointing outcome of the Mother Goose Stakes last Saturday, where his filly Proud Spell rallied after a horrible trip to finish second and end up disqualified, Jones is due for a break. One wouldn’t know to look at him that he’s enjoying one of his most successful years as a trainer. To him, winning isn’t everything.

The sport would do itself some good to learn this lesson.

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