By KEITH A. HOLLENDONNER
This letter is in response to the recent allegations of malfeasance in the horse racing industry here in Indiana. Currently, I am employed as Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC) veterinarian for thoroughbred racing. As such, I am in charge of overseeing the collection and storage of samples obtained for drug testing purposes at both Indiana racetracks.
Before a quick rush to judgment is made, some important facts need to be pointed out. First the accusations of widespread doping are just plain false. On average our team of professionals test 2,700 to 3,000 thoroughbred horses per year. Of these, less than 1 percent demonstrate any evidence of illegal drugs. All samples are collected in a consistent and reliable manner and promptly sent to a state-of-the-art independent laboratory for analysis. It has been my experience that any proof of impropriety has resulted in swift justice being handed down by the IHRC.
Secondly, we strive to provide the most up-to-date drug testing procedures. Our commission is ever vigilant regarding pharmaceutical applications in our equine athletes. In fact, Indiana was one of the first states to implement testing for erythropoietin, a drug implicated in human endurance athlete scandals.
Third, the medication rules here in Indiana are, in my opinion, the strictest in horse racing. Remember, horses are athletes. All athletes incur injuries. Modern medicine allows us to rehabilitate our horses much like their human counterparts. Sometimes pharmaceuticals, such as aspirin or penicillin, need to be employed. Due to the zero-tolerance rule the IHRC has mandated, no chemicals are allowed in racing horses with the exception of bute and Salix.
Penicillin, for example, stays in a horse’s system for up to 30 days. As such, both the trainer and the veterinarian must be careful to ensure the horse has cleared all said drugs from his system before racing. This presents a tremendous challenge, as various medications have widely different elimination times. It is my estimation that of the 1 percent of positive drug tests we see, approximately three-fourths have been honest trainers, employing legal medications, who failed to ensure adequate withdrawal times. Regardless of the circumstances, the IHRC has consistently penalized such cases in its attempt to protect the public as well as the horses.
Fourth, the allegations of widespread racing fixing are tenuous at best. Sure, there will always be “bad apples,” however, the vast majority of horsemen here in Indiana are honest, hard-working individuals. Having been involved with horse racing here for seven years, I have never seen any evidence of race fixing. There is an extensive system of checks and balances in the racing industry. From our team collecting samples for drug testing, the stewards overseeing the actual races, racing commission security, horsemen, to the personnel employed by the racetracks, everything is conducted according to the rules and regulations of the State of Indiana. In fact, I have been told by several horsemen that what makes racing in this state so appealing is the strict enforcement of all rules and regulations.
In closing, I feel horse racing in the state of Indiana is a very well-regulated sport. The protection of the gambling public as well as the welfare of the equine athletes is of paramount importance. As such, the IHRC has set high standards in this regard. I feel it would be a shame to denigrate an entire industry on the basis of questionable testimony from one individual whose motivation seems to be self-serving.
Keith A. Hollendonner is a Markleville resident.
By KEITH A. HOLLENDONNER