‘Dr.’ Ring and the Origins of Horse ‘Doping,’ 1901

Apr 13th 2009 10:45 pm |

The history of drugs and race horses is something I have done some research on in the past. With the recent “incident” in the Aqueduct detention barn, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back over 100 years ago to some early history of horse doping.

One of the first detailed mentions of doping I have found is from 1892 (of course, the practice is much older). When initially introduced in print – drug use was reported with little handwringing. In fact, one account from 1892 has a man named Rankin being suspended in New Orleans for ordering an injection to a colt named India Rubber. Why?

“After the race it was announced that the injection given the horse was not the usual one of cocaine, morphine, or whatever the stuff they used – brandy, perhaps – but was a harmless dose of water, and that it hurt instead of helped the horse.”

You read that right, he was ordered off the track for NOT giving the horse the “usual dose” of cocaine and morphine.

Less then ten years later, thoughts about drugging race horses had changed dramatically. The issue of “doping”, as it came to be known, was illegal and policed (less then effectively) by track officials.

In an article published in the New York Times in 1901, the unnamed author recounts the history of ‘dope’ as it related to horse racing. The story was published under the headline: “‘Dope’ An American Term : Its Uses and Abuses on the World’s Race Tracks.” Here is a selection from that article:

“The first use of the ‘dope’ went unnoticed by the Winter track officials and attracted little more than passing attention among the frequenters of the tracks. The betting men regarded the gossip they heard as only idle chatter and it was not until ‘doped’ horses actually had won races, and their several followers had taken enough money out of the betting ring, to make the layers feel that a new influence was at work among them, that the idea that drugs could bring about such results was considered seriously.”

It is interesting to note, that the term ‘dope’ prior to its association with drugs was used by handicappers in terms of information (i.e.: “getting the inside dope“).

“It was about that time that ‘Doc’ Ring came into prominence at the New Jersey Winter tracks. Ring was the real inventor of the the first generally used stimulant, which, however, in his day was not known as ‘dope,’ but was commonly described as the ‘injection,’ and was as much a mystery to the men who employed it through Ring as it was to the general public. In a short time, though, the term ‘dope’ was coined, and ‘dope’ it has been ever since.

“As used by Ring the new agent was a hypodermic injection, the component parts of which were known to Ring alone. He refused to accept pay for his services in the use of the syringe, and stipulated always that his only recompense should be a bet made for him by the owner on the horse treated, Ring’s profit thus being conditional on the success of that animal.

“Of Ring’s medical title there has been doubt always, but about the New Jersey Winter race tracks he was known by everybody as ‘Doc’ and was a very popular individual in his time. He was said to be the son of a once wealthy pork packer of St. Louis, who, having started out as a patron of the trotting horse in the days of his father’s prosperity, lost a great fortune and was compelled to take to the runners as a means of support.

“His secret did not go long undiscovered, for avaricious horsemen who did not like the idea of dividing with him managed by stratagem to learn what drugs he used. It was only a few years after Ring began his peculiar practice that he had so many rivals in the art of getting speed out of sulky horses that his occupation was practically ruined.

“The prescription that the inventor used with such success at the beginning of his career was composed of nitroglycerin, cocaine, carbolic acid, and rose water….Nitroglycerin was found after much experimenting to leave results that were permanently damaging, and in later ‘dope’ formula strychnine, capsicum, ginger, and other things were substituted for it with quite as much success as if the original dose had been used…

“…With the experience of later years, the use of the injection has been discontinued as too dangerous and too difficult to apply under the eyes of a paddock detective and for the last half dozen years the users of ‘dope’ have been confined to giving it in the shape of a capsule or enema…”

“…In America there are stringent laws against ‘dope’. On most of the great race tracks special officials are employed to keep supervision over the horses as they are being prepared for the track, and to see that they are not dosed in any way, either to stimulate speed or to have a contrary effect.”

In the early 20th century it was nearly to impossible to effectively police drug use. It wasn’t until the 1930s that a campaign spearheaded by the FBI forced racing into more effective measures. This led to the widespread adoption of drug testing.

In 1934 Hialeah became the first track to begin saliva testing horses and many tracks soon followed. Although testing was not (and still is not) perfect, it added credibility to the sport just as it was being legalized in new locales throughout the country.


SOURCES, NOTES, AND THOUGHTS

“Gossip of Racing”, New York Times, December 26, 1892 – includes the story of the trainer or owner suspended for injecting his horse with water.
“‘Dope’ An American Term,” New York Times, April 7, 1901

The articles above can be read in thei entirety at the New York Times Historical Archive

Horse Racing’s Top 100 Moments published by the Bloodhorse ranks drug testing as #36 in their list.

THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!

Filed in doping,drug testing,Ring, Doc,thoroughbred racing history



6 Responses to “‘Dr.’ Ring and the Origins of Horse ‘Doping,’ 1901”

  1. Wind Gatherer says:

    In a game, devoid of integrity at the highest level, willing to look the other way transgression after transgression, it is humbling to see the horse endures.

  2. Cangamble says:

    The most interesting part was that testing didn’t happen until 1934. Does that mean Man O War was junked up?

  3. TurfRuler says:

    There is nothing new under the sun as the wise man says. The most interesting part to me was the first quote. Same as now, the rags today and the officials have been taking few if any notice. I’ve been playing since 1978 and since that time only band-aide measure have been taken, but sock it to the jock who batterize a horse or hold a horse back or conspire to win a bet.

    “The first use of the ‘dope’ went unnoticed by the Winter track officials and attracted little more than passing attention among the frequenters of the tracks. The betting men regarded the gossip they heard as only idle chatter and it was not until ‘doped’ horses actually had won races, and their several followers had taken enough money out of the betting ring, to make the players feel that a new influence was at work among them, that the idea that drugs could bring about such results was considered seriously.”

  4. Colins Ghost says:

    WG: Thanks as always for the thoughtful comment

    CanGamble: Dorothy Ours in her excellent book quoted Man O War’s trainer Louis Feustel. He said in response to accusations that Man O War was a “hop” horse, “Good Lord, Why would I give a horse like that any dope? He was hard enough to handle without it.”

    TurfRuler: This is a great point! “I’ve been playing since 1978 and since that time only band-aide measure have been taken, but sock it to the jock who batterize a horse or hold a horse back or conspire to win a bet”

  5. Funder says:

    Really interesting post! Thanks.

  6. LizL says:

    I have always wondered about the tremendous number of gifted champion horses of the late 19th and early 20th century that were sterile. It just seems an inordinate percentage of the greats were. Could some of these stimulant concoctions possibly be to blame? Twenty Grand, Grey Lag, Black Gold, etc. I also don’t think Man O’ War was (drugged), since he never had problems breeding.