On October 9th 2017, the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) issued a press release regarding a team testing positive for a prohibited substance in the 2017 Iditarod. Due to the “sensitivity of the matter,” ITC declined to name the drug, or the musher.
On October 16th 2017, Humane Mushing and Craig Medred published articles revealing that the Seavey family – winners of the last six Iditarod races – have been publicly touting that they have used a prohibited substances for years during the race.
“We used so much Wintergreen that we once tried a knock-off product from an online source – until the dogs began loosing hair and suffering skin irritations. Since then, we have been using Young Living Essential Oils exclusively,” Seavey’s IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours posted on February 13th 2015.
Wintergreen oil is a methyl salicylate topical, an anti-inflammatory drug, which is prohibited for use by the Iditarod Trial Committee.
On October 17th 2017, the Iditarod Trail Committee miraculously decided to reveal the drug that was detected to be Tramadol, a Class IV Opioid drug.
If this were a drug scandal involving human athletes, the timing of Iditarod’s release would stick out like a sore thumb and draw far more criticism than it has (they waited until mushers were bound by the gag rule to release that there was a problem, and only released the name of the drug after their golden goose was under fire). However, because the scandal involves canine athletes – which are essentially classified as disposable livestock in the Iditarod’s home state of Alaska – the scenario is drawing far less criticism.
Performance-enhancing drugs often mask pain, allowing animal athletes to race and train with injuries that would otherwise be too painful to run on. Five dogs died in the 2017 Iditarod alone – the highest death toll since the 2009 race, which claimed the lives of six canine athletes. After 2009, mushers were urged to immediately drop dogs who they felt might die – in order to get them off the racing roster, so the RGO would not be legally required to report their deaths. This resulted in a couple years of zero-reported deaths for the Iditarod. However, in recent years, we again see an increase in reported deaths along the trail because dogs are dropping dead between checkpoints – something that is impossible to hide. What could cause dogs to drop dead in harness? You guessed it – performance-enhancing drugs. How could this have gone undetected for so long? The Thoroughbred Daily News explains:
The threats presented by the well-known and long-established illegal drugs to the integrity of sport are concerning enough, but the biggest fear with performance-enhancing drugs in sport is that of the unknown, and this is no different in horse racing. The standard of drug testing across the major racing nations is generally considered high, but no matter how high the standard of testing, the testers have to know what they are looking for if they are to find it.
So-called designer drugs, substances that have the very similar performance-enhancing effects as well-known illegal drugs, but have had slight changes made to their molecular structure to evade the testers, have been an area of major concern in human sports for many years. With the stakes being so high in horse racing, it would be a brave person that suggested designer drugs could not be a factor in the Sport of Kings.
With over $1.2 million being taken home by just one family during their Iditarod careers, it’s no surprise that we would see similar designer drug strategies being utilized in the Last Great Race.