Everybody loves a good scandal, and while you’re down at the track swapping horse racing tips it’s inevitable that rumours start. It’s quite another thing, however, when scandals involving drugs in horseracing come to the surface. The feeling of betrayal and sadness that rocks through the community is palpable, and the consequences—both health wise and legally—can be incredibly serious. Here are a few examples of drugging scandals that have rocked the racing world over history:

Horse Murders

The most despicable thing a sportsperson can do is cheat in order to win a race—but when it comes to taking the life of an innocent animal to advance your position, there is no lower act. The Horse Murders Scandal in the United States occurred between the mid-seventies and the mid-nineties as an insurance scam. Owners and trainers of valuable show jumping horses created an insurance scam whereby they would insure the lives of their animals for large sums, and then ruthlessly electrocute or drug them to kill them and claim the money. To make matters even worse (as if it was possible) a whistle blower by the name of Helen Bach discovered the fraud and threatened to report the crime ring to the authorities. Shortly afterwards she went missing, presumed murdered, and while the murder was never fully solved, a man is serving a life sentence after having been found to have solicited her murder.

Performance Enhancing Drugs

The issue of ‘doping’ in sports is an ongoing one, but for horseracing it is particularly topical. For years there have been rumours of various performance-enhancing drugs being used on Thoroughbreds and other racehorses such as Beta Blockers, Anabolic Steroids and Caffeine, among others. This is, of course, highly illegal, as it can not only give horses an unfair advantage over others in the race, but can be life threatening to the horses themselves. Drug testing is becoming more and more common in horse racing, but it is a sad state of affairs when the love of the sport and the animals can be outweighed by greed or obsession with success.

Suspicious Deaths

There have been a few cases over history where horses have died in suspicious circumstances. Phar Lap is probably the most notable case, after his death in California. Phar Lap developed a sudden and mysterious illness overnight, and was dead the next day. To this day, debate rages over whether he was murdered by a betting ring who wanted him out of the running, or by a rival jockey or trainer, as traces of arsenic were found in his blood.

In spite of these few examples of the downside of competitive horse racing, the sport is generally a positive experience for all involved, and boasts a large number of good, honest people who love animals and honest competition. It is sad that a few individuals would seek to bring down the integrity of the sport through various methods, but it is something to be aware of nonetheless. Next time you’re swapping horse racing tips or planning a day at the races, remember that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the great sport of horseracing in Australia and abroad.


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