Day At The Track

Blood doping and penalties - and suspensions

07:54 PM 22 Dec 2011 NZDT
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Alan Leavitt
Alan Leavitt - To tackle Industry's biggest problems
USTA/Mark Hall photo

Last week, Racing Commissioners International (RCI) Chair William Koester announced the appointment of Alan Leavitt of Kentucky as the Chair of their Standardbred Racing Committee. Leavitt, a member of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, currently serves as a Kentucky racing commissioner, a board member for both the United States Trotting Association and Hambletonian Society, and is a successful Standardbred owner and breeder.

With that impressive list of credentials and experience spanning more than five decades in the Standardbred business, Leavitt may be in the unique situation of being one of the most influential persons in a position of authority to lead an assault on the biggest problems facing the harness racing industry.

And Leavitt is ready, willing and able.

Already, he has set his sights on what he considers the two biggest problems in the industry -- blood doping, and penalties and suspensions.

"Those are two things I'm working on right now," said Leavitt. "First, I have to bring myself up to date, and then look at how we are handling it. We have to get uniformity in testing and penalties. If there's going to be uniformity, it has to start somewhere."

"Blood doping is the worst thing we have as far as drugs are concerned," according to the Kentucky Commissioner. "Despite all of the discussion about Lasix, it's irrelevant compared to the effects of blood doping. We need to get rid of it, period."

His first step was to seek out an expert who is knowledgeable about the science and is willing to assist with tackling the problem.

"It's something that I'm already working on through the scientists who know the most about blood doping," explained Leavitt. "I've been in touch with the most respected person in blood dope testing in human athletes, and he is interested in helping us with the testing. This is the first time that these experts will be turning all of their attention to harness racing to help us get rid of it."

"What we have now is inadequate," continued the Hall of Famer. "Harness racing needs a better test, and I'm hoping that from this work we'll get one."

The second part of the equation is what the penalties should be for those who are caught blood doping. Once again, the newly appointed commissioner feels that the harness industry has much to do and needs to do it as soon as possible.

"Another thing I'm going to work on immediately concerns penalties and suspensions," Leavitt said. "There is a total lack of uniformity between the various states. Just look at the difference between Pennsylvania and New York, there is a big difference between both their testing process and penalties. That has to be worked on. I know it won't happen quickly, but uniformity is something I'm going to work toward."

In addition to uniform rules, Leavitt believes it is critical that penalties need to be meaningful and applied effectively.

"In some places, when a trainer receives a suspension, he simply installs a second trainer at a nominal change," noted Leavitt. "Nothing really changes. It's business as usual and makes a mockery of the regulatory process.

"I think Kentucky now has the best and most effective regulations and policies," Leavitt explained. "In Kentucky, if a trainer gets a suspension of 60 days or more, his stable must be dissolved. He can't use a paper trainer, he can't use a second trainer, he can't use anyone. He's out. That's the way it should be. The only call the trainer is going to be making is to his brother-in-law, looking for a job working in his car store."

But that is not all Leavitt has been working on during his first week in his new position. As an owner, he has personally experienced the difficulty of applying for licenses in different states, and wants to simplify the procedure.

This week he's spent some time learning about the RCI licensing process. "I'm going to do my best to let everyone know about the National Racing Compact, an arm of RCI, and what a terrific licensing program they offer. For starters, you only have to be fingerprinted and photo'd once, no matter how many states and provinces you're applying to."

He's already sent out a press release that gives all of the important details, as well as the contact information for the National Racing Compact.

With these projects already under way, Leavitt is well aware that his new position comes with certain limitations as far as his influence will go, but he hopes that now he will have access to the regulators and make them aware of the ongoing problems harness racing faces.

"While the Hambletonian Society and the USTA play a very important role in our sport, everyone should realize that the real power lies with the state racing commissioners, because virtually every state and province belongs to RCI," Leavitt said, "As the chairman of the RCI Standardbred Committee, I think that will open the door enough so that I'll be heard."

But equally important to Leavitt is that his fellow members of the harness racing industry know that he has an open door and encourages them to come to him with their problems.

"I've been in harness racing for 50 years, and for 50 years I've seen all kinds of injustices, all kinds of needless complications, all kinds of administrative errors, and no uniformity," said Leavitt. "And for 50 years, like everybody else I suffered in silence because there was nobody to go to."

"In my new position, I want to give all of the owners, trainers, and drivers someone to talk to and be a voice that will speak up for them," Leavitt explained. "If there is something glaringly bad or wrong, and somebody wants their grievances to be heard, I think I can do that."

"Change isn't going to come easily," Leavitt said, "but we can't go on as things are now. I don't know how much of a difference I can make, but I intend to give it my best effort."

For the harness racing industry, Alan Leavitt just might be the right guy, in the right place, at the right time.

by Dan Leary, USTA director of communications

Courtesy of the US Trotting Association's Web Newsroom

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