LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Big Brown's owner doesn't want to wait for the federal government to come in and clean up horse racing.
Michael Iavarone, the co-owner IEAH Stables said Monday the 50-plus horses owned by the syndicate will be drug free by the end of the year. That includes steroids and all other legal racing medications except for Lasix.
Iavarone said last week's Congressional hearing in which owners, veterinarians and industry officials expressed a strong desire to rid the sport of steroids led to the decision.
"You see that people that are influential in the game all want it," Iavarone said. "Hopefully we're the first of many (owners) to take the step, but you've got to show you really want it."
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield - the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection - called the move a good sign, but doesn't expect to see other owners lining up behind IEAH.
"I'm confident there's not going to be a mass stampede by owners," Whitfield told the Associated Press. "There are owners in some states who fear (by not taking the drugs) they would be less competitive."
Maybe, but the move by IEAH could take some of the sting out of a rough two weeks for the syndicate and their superstar horse following Big Brown's lethargic last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Rick Dutrow created a stir before the Belmont when he told reporters he decided against giving the horse his monthly dose of stanozolol, a legal steroid sometimes sold under the brand name Winstrol. Some critics speculated Big Brown was suffering from steroid withdrawal during the race, a notion Iavarone dismisses.
What happened during the Belmont remains a mystery to Iavarone, though a picture he received from a freelance photographer taken during the race shows Big Brown running with a seemingly dislodged shoe on his right hind foot. There was no evidence of injury to the hoof after the race, but Iavarone doesn't think it could have been comfortable for the horse, who was wearing an acrylic patch on his left front hoof to compensate for a painful quarter crack.
Hoof issues aside, taking such an aggressive stance against drugs sends the right message, said National Thoroughbred Racing Association CEO Alex Waldrop.
"I think they were affected by all of the criticism suggesting that Big Brown was some kind of pumped up, steroid-laced phenomenon and it wasn't legitimate," he said. "They rightly concluded the only way to remove the cloud of suspicion is to remove steroids from horses, otherwise they're going to be constantly under suspicion."
Instead, Iavarone would like to put the onus on owners who don't come forward to adopt his position. He is asking all chart makers to put annotations in daily race programs that highlight all drug-free horses.
"It credits people that come aboard and do it with us," he said. "Every horse that runs on Lasix only should be known as such, and it spotlights the people that aren't interested in doing it."
Whether other owners come forward and take a similar stance might not matter. The NTRA and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium are pushing the 38 racing states to adopt a model rule that would ban all but four steroids considered therapeutic in nature.