Syringes, needles and all manner of injectables have a really bad name around race tracks for I suppose obvious reasons. They are the preferred modality of administration when a trainer wants to affect his horse within hours and injectables are the basis for the much hallowed "pre-race" vet visit which many horses have gotten routinely for years as a prep for an upcoming race that same day. Injectables will allow a chemical compound to reach the horse's physiological inner-self with the least amount of chemical change and optimum potency with quickest action. Trainers are always trying to inject the most ridiculous stuff into their horses or doing it the quasi-legal way with a vet to gain that much coveted edge which is really one of the most widespread figments of the imagination any one associated with racehorses can possess. As with anything associated with drugs in our world, "big money" is the fuel that perpetuates this belief system, no matter how false the pretense. Myth becomes reality in this upside down world, we race in. My controversial view on this subject seems to make almost everyone mad in this business with the gambler being the most likely to call me an idiot. After all, he has lost enough money in his life time from so called, sure-bets! He knows it has to be chicanery! He has heard the scuttlebutt so rampant in our sport of what probably happened! He knows all about the unlikely long-odds horses that mysteriously win, and he knows the trainers with the unnatural winning streaks. Its plain as day what is going on around these delusional punters! For better or worse, injectables can get a trainer suspended for a very long time, no matter if a myth or real and in the end, it is really all just about perceptions in this sport of dreams.
As a youngster, I was seduced into the mysticism of the "juiced" race horse. I mean, the stereotype that race horses can be drugged into winning races has permeated every aspect of our dear sport since long ago. It can almost be considered mandatory for every plot in horse racing fiction, be it a novel, a TV melodrama, or cinema, to involve a drugged horse. I am here on this page to proclaim, it is all a myth! Fiction does not make it so! Race horses cannot be drugged into winning races and, perhaps, more controversially, I contend that performances cannot be enhanced beyond the natural limits of any animal's genetic potential! DNA has finite limits. At least, I have never seen any signs of it in my long history of being a licensed trainer.
As a young trainer, I did as many inexperienced horsemen are apt to do. I heard the whispers of the "drug of the month" and I used them on my horses. I am not proud to say that I have used about all there is to use in search for an edge, and I was very lucky in never coming up with a positive. After about ten years of this early nonsensical search for speed and stamina in a vial, I soon realized that the only ones that were benefiting were the vets, drug companies, and some black market renegades. Such drugs simply do not create good race horses, nor win races. The myth that drugs are a potent force, finds fertile soil only in those inexperienced minds that have never actually experienced first-hand use of such chemicals on horses they have hands-on control over.
I have been reading a very interesting book that asks questions about improving physical performance on the cellular level. The book is The Energy of Life by Guy Brown. Dr. Brown makes some very important observations on how much performance enhancing drugs really help. Until I read his book, I just knew that drugs were over-rated from my own training experiences. After his book, I had a pretty good scientific reason why my instincts were correct.
What is the very base component of getting a race horse across the line first? Energy! To produce this vital race winning energy involves a very complex group of cellular chemical and mechanical processes. Usually, it is the machinery of the cell that transforms this energy into ATP (adenosine triphosphate) or the machinery that uses that ATP to do work such as muscle contraction or nerve impulses. (Time out! Yes, ATP has been commonly injected straight into racehorses as a pre-race! I never saw it do much good!) This machinery has a maximal rate and no matter how much fuel or chemicals you give the machine, it will not go any faster. However, the rate at which this cellular machinery works is regulated by hormones and nerves and the amount of machinery in the cell is regulated by the DNA. For example, if our horses regularly train, their cell machinery for energy production in the form of mitochondria and energy use, muscle fibers, slowly increases in amount within their muscles, because messages are sent to the DNA, causing it to up-regulate the amount of these proteins in the cell to help support the new demands on that body for survival. So there are things we can do to increase our horse's energy level, but they are usually not as obvious as feeding/drenching our horses with various supplements or injecting specific target substances hours or days before a race.
Dr. Brown points out a process consisting of a chain of jobs as seen in cellular metabolism is generally as slow as the slowest component job-not the fastest or the average, but the SLOWEST! There are many individual steps and they all have to go at exactly the same rate or otherwise the whole system is going to get out-of-step very rapidly. It was learned in the 1970s by Kacser & Burns in their metabolic control analysis studies that if you decreased the extent to which one step limited a process then a different process must become more limiting. Thus, say if your horse's energy level is limited by vitamins, when you feed your horse a massive dose of vitamins, the vitamins will no longer be limiting, but something else will have become limiting. When scientists started using metabolic control analysis to measure the extent to which the different steps limited overall rates, they found to their surprise that most metabolic pathways did not have a single rate-limiting step, but rather several steps were partially rate limiting. And more importantly, the distribution of rate limitation between different steps changed during different conditions. This has important implications for our horse's energy level and rate at which it can perform. There is no single step within our horse's body or cells that limit its performance; rather there are a number of different steps or processes that partially limit its race performance and which steps they are, depends on specific conditions. There is no single, central, all powerful step or regulator within the horse's body that limits and controls its performance and energy level in all conditions. And therefore there is no single vitamin, drug, or treatment that can target this central regulator to improve our horse's performance substantially or charge-up its energy levels. Rather there are a large number of processes that limit its performance a bit, and if we do something or treat our horses with something to improve one of those processes, then the overall performance will be improved by a small amount, but something else will now limit the performance.
Personally, I find the betting public, news media, race officials, and especially owners who consider the use of drugs as a way to improve performance to be naïve. The myth that the right chemistry will bring riches on the race track is a farce. Neglect the basic horsemanship, the not so basic race conditioning, and no amount of chemistry will save you. Tweak all you want with various supplements, but I suspect you will find all too soon that any gains made by chemistry can easily be offset by other limiting factors. These limiting factors are not only to be found in the basic cell metabolism but in the more obvious conditions seen on a race track in shoeing, general health, conditioning, tack, racing luck, race ride, race company, etc, etc, etc. There is always some unforeseen limiting factor and, most of all, this truth is why all horseplayers die broke. I am not saying not tweak via chemistry, just don't delude yourself into thinking it will really makes too much of a difference. And I am not saying not test or regulate against drugs, but just know in the end, the winner of any given race was not carried across the line by a "performance enhancing" compound, nor was a bet lost. If only life were so simple!
I suppose one has to spend years on the backside, actually racing horses, using this shit, and talking to the old timers during their loafing moments, to gain the insights which I present here. Most people don't have that opportunity and continue to believe in the myth of performance enhancers. It is an innate human need to grasp for meaningful connections in life to make sense out of the chaos. We tend to associate events that are closely related in time as being significant and interconnected, the so-called: "cause & effect" phenomena. As every scientist knows, two closely related events does not truth make. I assure you that for every horse that was drugged prior to his race and won, there were hundreds of others that raced poorly on the same stuff! As with gambling wins, we never hear about all of the losses that lucky bettors sustained before that highly publicized win, nor do we hear from trainers of all their drugged horses losing! So am I to take the vicious criticism of horseplayers toward my views very seriously? Hardly! These are the people that without exception cherish superstitious rituals during their betting outings that they hope will bring them luck. They have little credence for knowing what truth really is in this sport.
I just run across a quote made by the infamous racehorse trainer, Enoch Wishard. Mr. Wishard plied his trade in the late 1800s and I particularly like him because he appears to be one of those wizen talented old horsemen that could never shake the drug reputation gained from his earlier racing years. He had a wide reputation in the USA of doping horses and doing it very well. He later moved his stable to England as was popular during the latter part of the 19th century with equal success on the track. The British Jockey Club regarded him with equal suspicion along with all other American trainers of that time. American racing successes in the UK fired up much jealousy with accusations of doping by these foreign American up-starts. Royal Flush was one of his horses that did well and supposedly was hopped with cocaine. He won an upset in the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot and then a few months later, the Steward's Cup at Goodwood.
Wishard gave an interview to a racing journalist in 1902 saying he had never found any hop that did any good for a horse. He elaborated: "I have heard lots of things and tried I think all of them."
I could not agree more. I have done similarly, resulting in the same conclusions. As far as Wishard's alleged cocaine use in his horses, sport physiological researchers report athletic deterioration with the use of cocaine; there is no evidence of its being a performance enhancer, but it sure makes hell of a story. The myth of the winning doping American trainer lingers and followed Wishard and his counterparts everywhere--as does the mystique of the effectiveness of the modern "performance enhancers" even to this day.
Todd Sloan, the famous jockey that popularized the modern jockey seat, writes in his 1915 book this enlightening view of Enoch Wishard:
"I put down Enoch Wishard as one of the best trainers I have ever come in close touch with. He, I believe started life as a blacksmith in a town called Wellsville, and from this town also came Duke, who at present trains for Mr W. K. Vanderbilt; and John M'Graw, the manager of the New York Baseball Club. Enoch Wishard made a study of horses' feet from early days before he took to training, and he followed this up by always caring for their mouths. These certainly are two of the greatest essentials when considering a horse's chance of progressing in training. Fortunately many trainers of the present day have given serious attention to these matters, which one must say were far too often neglected in the past. Wishard asked regularly about the mouths of his charges and he would never leave the care of their feet to anyone but himself. Perhaps more than anyone else he has proved how a man can reach the top of the trainer's calling owing to observation and taking the trouble to think about the disposition of his horses.
Wishard's by the way is a case that helps to prove that there is very little heredity in training. Tell me any great trainer whose son has proved as great a man at the business as his father before him. The talent is supposed to "pass down" but that is sheer nonsense. I do not think there are "born trainers" any more than there are "born jockeys." Some jockeys may have taken up riding through their fathers having been at the game, but it doesn't follow for a moment that they will achieve success. Take the list of all you can HOW HORSES WERE SHOD ever remember: there are a few exceptions on the other side but the vast majority goes to support what I have said."
Truer words were never written on improving racehorses as quoted from Sloan above! If a trainer can take care of a racehorse's feet and mouth, he will have a large part of the battle won of improving any horse. Forget about hop, it is close observation of a horse's hooves and mouth that can make all the difference in the world and improve most any horse taken from most any average trainer. Add to this the close hands-on toil that every good trainer lavishes on the everyday workings of a race stable, his keen thought in the individuality of each horse's personality, and thoroughly knowing the condition book and competition which will produce a trainer superior to most at any given time or race.
Let's examine the concept of "luck" while we are on the subject of performance enhancers and doping. This is relevant because most horseplayers will use a trainer's win streaks as prove he is doping. The TV show, "Through the Wormhole", narrated by Morgan Freeman did a very informative episode on exactly this subject of luck. First off, an aspect of luck was covered in this show that always has mystified me, lucky streaks! We are all subject to the averages in life. On the average, we will accomplish something or not. We will be lucky on some occasions, unlucky at others on a fairly even scale. Life is a variation from the mean (average). If we tossed a coin, we would suspect that we had a 50:50 chance of either drawing heads or tails, eh? Not so! Lucky streaks are a very common function of luck and they are to be expected to occur! Lucky streaks are not rare and they are dictated by the number of applied attempts. As Morgan Freeman narrates, if one tossed a coin a hundred times, it would be statistically expected that a lucky streak will occur as unlikely as it may seem within those one hundred attempts. In contrast, a streak of throwing the same coin face is much less likely to occur the less times one flips. So how does this relate to those trainers that we all know that are winning everything in sight during any specific race meet? Are they really using some undetectable drug confounding the bettors as popular myth often goes? Hardly! Unusual winning streaks are a fact of life and the more a trainer starts his horses and the more and better horses he races---the more likely such a lucky streak will occur! Statisticians will verify this! The more attempts, the more likely a winning streak will occur. It has nothing to do with doping racehorses.
In this context, let's examine past American racing history from around 1897 to the early 1900s where a number of American trainers invaded England and her courses. Enoch Wishard would be one of those typical trainers. They arrived and mostly turned the Brits upside-down with winning streaks. The Brits said they were doping of which cocaine and whisky were predominate substances employed back in that day. Hardly exotic substances! Perhaps the Americans were, but it is not to be forgotten that back during this period, everyone was, and it was an easy thing to buy all kinds of over-the-counter remedies with cocaine and other similar compounds in them like we would buy candy today. As a side note, it is well recognized today in the athletic performance lab that cocaine is not a performance enhancer for all the good it does to suggest it was back in that day. So what really happened back then that gave the Americans an advantage? Many things and drugs ain't one of them!
First off and most widely recognized was that the Americans brought over the so-called, "monkey seat". Tod Sloan was the one that did it and won races right-and-left over there by simply riding with a shorter iron and placing his weight forward on the horse's withers. Not so well known was that American trainers trained differently than the Brits. The Americans were much less likely to work their horses distances actually longer than the race itself, unlike the natives. They preferred sharper works at shorter distances and often used a stopwatch. Even to this day, the Europeans are not known to rely much on the watch. They also kept their animals cooler when the practice of the day was to keep racehorses covered up in blankets and in stuffy hot stables. They shod their horses with lighter racing plates when the Brits used common everyday heavy ones. They also trimmed horses in preparation to being shod in more scientific terms of which Enoch Wishard was a well known master. Nutrition was another matter of which the Americans seemed to excel to the detriment of their British adversaries. So you put all of this together, particularly the lesser known facts of what was really going on behind the scenes and one can reasonably come up with why doping was not the reasons the Americans excelled. Doping back then as to this day has always been an easy way out to disparage those that were successfully winning above the mean (average).
So what is bad luck? On the opposite side of things, there are those trainers that couldn't win a race if they were given the opportunity! We all know them! They have a few head of mediocre horses that start infrequently. Again, as stated previously, an unlucky streak like a lucky steak is a function of the number of attempts and how each attempt is cultivated. It is not surprising that the most unlucky trainers will often have the least amount of starts and when they do race, be least prepared. I wonder why the wonders of dope never seems to help out these unlucky trainers with only a few head in the shedrow? Drugs seem only to work for the top trainers, heading large barns with superior winning percentages! Go figure?
The Morgan Freeman's "Luck" episode also tackles coincidences and, again, just like lucky streaks, coincidences occur in life all the time. They are to be expected. We as humans are very poorly adapted to predicting probabilities. We often think that an unforeseen occurrence or, if you will, a specific race track win, as being very unlikely, when in truth, such an event is not nearly so amazing when statistics are taken into consideration. I know as a trainer, I have been shocked that a horse of mine in a tough field, wins every now and then. He was certainly not drugged! He was just being dropped in to get a work or experience or help out the racing secretary. It happens to the best of us. With a large enough sample, coincidences occur regularly, easily confounding our human sensibilities . We as humans are always looking for patterns and coincidences that will bolster our theories on why something happens and being human, we often come to the wrong conclusions. Performance enhancers are an easy scapegoat to many as why any certain unlikely horse may win or why trainers have hot streaks. To those that realize the complexity of this sport, we are not fooled by such coincidences nor do we put much stock in performance enhancers.