Wednesday, May 7, 2008

When Did We Lose Our Way?

Jeremy Plonk has a more than interesting piece up on ESPN.com about racing, drugs and the reporting of news.

Thoroughbred racing may finally have its Triple Crown winner, but it's not what anyone wanted.

The convicted drug offenders have now swept racing's Holy Grail. First, Steve Asmussen's Curlin captured the 2007 Preakness, followed three weeks later by Todd Pletcher's Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes. Had you ran those two races in January of 2007, the classic-winning trainers would have been Scott Blasi and Anthony Sciametta. Why? Asmussen and Pletcher opened the year banned from training as they sat out suspensions for medication violations. And now comes the poster child for questionable-character trainers, Rick Dutrow, with his Kentucky Derby 134-winning Big Brown. Dutrow spent a good chunk of 2006 banned from the racetrack and his own barn, leaving the "official" training duties to assistant Juan Rodriguez.

The inmates officially are running the asylum.


This I believe is extremely important. Racing has lost its way. When a person who has abused the rules of the sport succeeds, and continues to, it makes honest people everywhere not want to be a part of this business. Worse yet, when the worst offenders (e.g. EPO or venom users) succeed, their win percentage goes up and it attracts even more investment to them. It is a vicious circle.

We have serious, serious problems in racing.

Owners who succeed at times are also a problem. When I filled out my ORC license they asked if I was ever in trouble. I thought, wow, this is worse than an application to work in a bank, or in law enforcement. These guys really care about backgrounds of people who own racehorses. Further from Mr. Plonk:

Big Brown's part-owner IEAH Stable is a syndicate (group partnership) headed by Michael Iavarone. They have had a meteoric run in the past few years in the racing game behind, no doubt, hard work and intelligent decisions. But they also carry a cloud of question since it was their horse, A One Rocket, who was the focus of a federal indictment that included racehorse doping (via "milkshake") and organized crime. Their former trainer, Greg Martin, pled guilty and IEAH moved their horses elsewhere following his racetrack ban. Let me be clear that IEAH was not implicated in the fiasco, but we're often judged in life's court of public opinion by the company and friends we keep.

This rather laissez faire attitude of racing breeds a disrespect for the business. We do not have anyone running this ship. We don’t have anyone to say no. When a trainer gets a positive and has a high-priced lawyer ask and receive stays, there is no one to say “no, you can not race. You are not bigger than the business”. There is no one to put their foot down to let everyone know that racing a horse is a privilege not a right. Some in racing act like they are in kindergarten, when the teacher leaves the room.

The downward spiral only figures to worsen before it gets better. Imagine being a rival trainer, watching those you know who have cut corners garner all the money and limelight, without being caught. What tremendous temptation and incentive it must be to keep up with the Joneses. Let's not be too altruistic and pure here. Few, if any, horsemen these days are running on hay, oats and water. But there's a big difference between feed supplements and legal race-day meds versus painkillers and nerve agents.

It used to be like this on the old Vancouver Stock Exchange, called the Vancouver Scam Exchange by many in the late 1980’s. Finally the good people banded together, the exchange put their foot down, and said that rule breakers would not be tolerated. If you broke the rules of the exchange, you were gone. Go to another exchange to raise money, because you ain't raising money here. A short 15 years later it is now one of the most successful venture exchanges in the world.

We need the same thing to happen in racing. The inmates who run the asylum and continue to make a mockery of our fine game must be sent packing. Not for 30 days, not for 3 months, not with a stay, not with an appeal. The most egregious violators that can kill horses and put drivers and riders in danger, like pain killer and blood builder abusers must be gone forever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Noble thoughts indeed, about cleaning up the game.

The very best way to restore integrity is to levy penalties that are significant. 10 years for Mr. E. Pindur is very significant, if it does not get watered down a la Eric Ledford in NJ. That was a a huge fiasco.

Personally, my action on Meadowlands averaged 500-600/day, but since Ledford's reinstatement my action is Zero/day.

If the ORC lets Mr. B. Elliot off the hook, my action on WEG harness racing will drop identically, and I won't be back.

Clearly, nobody really cares about my personal action, BUT multiply my thoughts by the number of people that feel the same way, and there will be some impact.

In closing, I must commend the ORC for finally exposing some of the cheaters.