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Original Issue


Drugging horses to make them win or lose is still possible on American tracks but it has become risky and rare. In the last 14 years an annual average of only 15 stimulation cases has been detected by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau—these from 140,000 horses in 17,500 races. The TRPB spends $500,000 a year investigating doping and other track irregularities. TRPB does not claim infallibility, but it is convinced that its detection techniques are adequate. On the morning of each racing day at principal American tracks, veterinarians inspect all horses entered to run that day. After each race, saliva and urine examiners go to work. Tests are made on the winners of each race and on at least one other horse in that race, usually the one finishing second. But stewards can and do order examinations of other horses that they suspect of running too fast or too slow in relation to their past performances. So the chances of getting by without a test are slim.

There are differences of opinion on how effective these measures are. Some vets claim that doping is easily detectable. Others disagree. Dr. John McA. Kater, a vet formerly employed by TRPB, wrote in LIFE (Jan. 31, 1955): "I can flatly state that it is still easy to dope a horse and get away with it—the saliva-urine test and TRPB notwithstanding." Dr. Kater and TRPB parted company because he wanted a big research program on all possible stimulation and depression drugs, plus pre-race physical examinations of horses, utilizing blood-pressure and blood-sugar tests. His critics felt that his demands were unnecessary and expensive and would take so much time that horses might never get on the track by post time. (Horseplayers appreciate Dr. Kater's skepticism, but would rather be cheated than miss the races.)

On the whole, however, track officials and veterinarians are generally satisfied with the system, though they are constantly on guard against the ingenuity of dopers trying to circumvent the tests. The incentive for doping is not great in the U.S. With most betting done via pari-mutuel windows, dopers in search of big killings at large pre-race odds (which is possible in England where pre-race bets can be made with legalized bookmakers) can't gamble large sums here without making the pari-mutuel odds on the doped horse drop sharply. Also, racing is now such a prosperous business that the big money lies in purse winning, not in betting.

In England, where racing is more popular but less prosperous than in the U.S., many trainers have to bet successfully to survive. But Great Britain's Jockey Club has steadfastly refused to adopt the American system of routine tests, apparently for fear it would give racing a bad name by fostering the belief that doping is a common practice.