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Hayward Ain't Blowing Smoke

Charles Hayward wrote a testimonial in support of the USADA involvement in horse racing today. He typed:
  • I submit that the major contributing factor was lack of confidence in the integrity of races by the wagering public and by the owners of horses who subsequently left the industry. Some might suggest that the drop can be attributed to the foal crop decline or the financial market correction in 2008. However, while the handle was reducing in 2004 onward, the foal crop actually increased from 2002 to 2007, and double-digit declines in foal crop did not begin until 2010, long after the handle falls had started.
We can quibble with that, but I think it has a lot of merit, and using a catch-all like "integrity" is not hyperbole.

Super-stables, with satellite operations at many tracks - certainly those fueled by slots - win a lot of races. And in some cases, these wins are not on the up and up. At smaller tracks - most with purse levels allowing you to barely scrape by with a homebred, or modestly priced yearling - rely on some sort of normal distribution of purse money to enhance horse buying and racing.  When that normal distribution of 20 starts, 2 wins, 4 seconds and 6 thirds (let's say) is shocked with a 40% trainer, with a big stable, the whole system gets out of whack. At larger venues, when someone comes around who is clearly pre-racing on race day, or worse, it's even more of a shock. "Why would I want to buy horses to compete with these guys? To be made a fool of when they take a horse from me? To lose money? To run for second or third each race?" Losing isn't fun.

Not only do the bad guys discourage other owners from competing, this spins off to chalk laden six horse fields that no one can beat, ergo, no one wants to bet. 

It was not like this 25 years ago.

There are those, like Doc Fenger with her comment on Charlie's piece, who believe USADA involvement is about therapeutic drugs etc, and will have no effect on the status-quo by "catching cheaters". I, like Charlie I suppose, disagree. When using something on raceday - like a designer undetectable pain killer that's use needs to be near post time, or milkshaking which also can't be done the day before - is penalized, and when charges (possibly criminal through the USADA) are levied, it can have an effect. It can change this culture. Right now horse racing does not have that ability. It probably never will have that ability. It's too fractured.

Horse racing is not filled with "bad guys". That's nonsense. But what makes racing different is that "bad guys" can end up having most of the horses. They can have stables of 50, overnight. They dominate a box, they drop down horses with others fearing to claim them.  It messes things up.

Cycling wasn't filled with "bad guys" either. Only over time, by ignoring the issues did they become too large. The USADA did the unthinkable and cleaned up cycling. Horse racing is nowhere near as screwed up; nowhere near as 'corrupt'. This should be easy. But with an entrenched culture, it's not.


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