It's been a long time since I wrote about drugs here so I thought I'd start out with a "told you so." What is this time, you ask. Well, hold on... let me tell you.
It wasn't too long ago - August of 2005 - when I wrote about how the well-publicized pharmaceutical Viagra was a performance-enhancing drug. And no, that wasn't meant as a joke.
Actually, most people think I'm being ironic when I say or write that Viagra can heighten the athletic prowess of an athlete, but, please, take the statements at face value. Nevertheless, what piqued my interest in Viagra was the positive drug test from ex-Orioles and Rangers slugger Rafael Palmeiro.
Palmeiro, of course, was suspended by baseball for 10 games for testing positive for the anabolic steroid Winstrol, which reportedly was the drug of choice for shamed sprinter Ben Johnson and stakes horse, Big Brown. But Palmeiro was even better known for his use of Viagra. In fact, Palmeiro famously appeared as a spokesman for the impotency drug and starred in national TV commercials that hit the airwaves in heavy rotation.
So while everyone was trying to figure out if Palmeiro was taking shots of horse steroids in his rear, I dug into what Viagra was doing for him other than what was being explained in the TV commercial.
Viagra, not unlike EPO, I wrote, could increase the level of oxygen sent to an athletes' muscles. The more oxygen in a muscle, the less tired it gets so it could be said that Palmeiro's muscles not only were recovering and growing quicker thanks to the horse ‘roids, but also they were getting much more oxygen from his little blue pills. Pretty much any athlete who participates in a sport that involves running or endurance might be able to benefit from taking Viagra.
But Viagra is also used to counteract potential impotence, which can be a side-effect of testosterone injections. At least that's what we learned from a story in the New York Daily News this week. The crux of the story:
Roger Clemens allegedly kept Viagra in a GNC vitamin bottle in his locker at Yankee Stadium. Already under investigation for alleged performance-enhancing drug use during his playing days, Clemens, sensationally, was allegedly one of many athletes taking "Vitamin V." according to the story, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Marian Jones were regular users of the drug. What's more, pro cyclist Andrea Moletta was suspended from the prestigious Giro d'Italia when police found 82 Viagra pills and a syringe in his father's car.
Sports regulation groups, including the federally-funded United States Anti-Doping Agency, are investigating whether or not Viagra could become a banned substance for athletes. According to drugs expert Don Catlin, "It's a complicated drug. If you go through the basic pharmacology and stretch your imagination, you could end up saying, ‘Yeah, maybe it could be useful for athletes who are competing in endurance sports at high altitude.'"
But - pardon the pun - Viagra is in bed with Major League Baseball. A long-time corporate sponsor of MLB, it seems as if baseball could find itself in an odd spot. How would it look if MLB came under the drug-testing auspices of the USADA and had to ban a product of one of its major sponsors?
Regardless, will Major league Baseball really test anyone for anything? According to a story in The New York Times, MLB may have suspended drug testing during the 2004 season. Better yet, if the league didn't suspend testing, the story reads, MLB alerted players when tests would be.The reason why that's such big news is that the league failed to mention any of this during the infamous testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March of 2005.
It was during those hearings where Palmeiro wagged his finger at the lawmakers and told them he never used steroids.
Instead, MLB the MLBPA testified in those hearings that test results in 2004 showed a significant drop in positives, which may have stopped Congress from interceding in MLB's drug testing processes.
In other words, players weren't testing positive because they weren't being tested... allegedly.
Harry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a statement in which he says the information he received from MLB and MLBPA was wrong, though he isn't sure if either group was deliberately supplying the wrong information.
It's clear that some of the information Major League Baseball and the players union gave the committee in 2005 was inaccurate. It isn't clear whether this was intentional or just reflects confusion over the testing program for 2003 and 2004. In any case, the misinformation is unacceptable.
Because of the sports fans' drug fatigue, it doesn't seem as if the new revelations will resonate. However, it doesn't mean it won't be a problem for MLB. When the Olympic sports routinely test for performance-enhancing drugs and just as routinely suspend athletes - sometimes without the benefit of due process - baseball looks conspicuous by its absence. No, this doesn't mean baseball should start some of the Draconian methods used by the World Anti-Doping Agency and its brethren, but it's remarkable to think about what is banned by other sports but is perfectly legal in baseball.
Including that little blue pill.
Workouts are important indicators of potential performance. If a man or an animal put in quality workouts time in and time out, chances are they are going to do well when it comes time for the big day.
Plus, you can really tell a lot about a man (or an animal) based on how much he enjoys practice and his craft. Word is Seabiscuit whinnied and whined every time he saw horses circling the track. Sometimes it took all the might of the stable hands just to hold back the legendary horse from busting through the rails to take off after another horse breezing through a few furlongs.
The same was said about Michael Jordan, too. Legend has it that for as competitive and nasty as he was during a playoff game, he took the battles to another level during every day workouts. It was what made Jordan great, some said.
Allen Iverson? Practice? Not so much.
As a workout fiend known for leaving some of his best performances on the back roads instead of in the big races, I have a special fondness for workout logs and results. That's especially true this time of year when the Triple Crown stakes races approach. That's why I spent a little while this afternoon combing through the charts and times for the workouts of the 20 horses set to race in this Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Yeah, I'm sure some of the times are withheld and other workouts are ignored, but I continue to use the workouts as the top criterion for picking a winner in a horse race.
After that, it's hard to ignore past performances.
Bloodlines? Yeah, that's important, but not as much as one would think.
So without much more waxing on, here are the three horses I like in Saturday's big race:
Eight Belles - the No. 5 horse is a field pick at 20-1, which means he's not much of a contender. However, the Kentucky-bred filly has won four straight races this year as well a workout where he breezed through five furlongs in 58.2 this week. Last week Eight Belles did four furlongs in 46.6 and seems to be getting stronger.
Colonel John - OK, I like the name, and at 4-1 the No. 10 is the second favorite in the Derby. But the numbers are big - two five-furlongs sessions in 57.8 and 59.4 during the last two weeks coupled with six lifetime races in which the Kentucky-bred colt has four wins and two second-place finishes. Call this horse the smart money.
Big Brown - Despite coming out of the 20th hole, the lightly-raced Kentucky native is the favorite at 3-1. However, even with a few somewhat pedestrian workouts, Big Brown is a big monster when the bell rings. All three of Big Brown's wins were by big margins, including a five-length romp in last month's Florida Derby. Word around the backstretch is that Big Brown is a big "freak" and very well might roll over the big field for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Could Big Brown be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978? We'll find out on Saturday. In the meantime, arrange the 5, 10 and 20 in a trifecta and send me a big kudos if this works out for you.