Recently the AAEP released their thoughts on racing, and how to put the horse first. Many of their recommendations I agreed with, some not so much, but I applaud the effort. One thing I do believe that we need to do better, and we don't need vets for this, (we need only racing) is apply common sense on integrity.
First off let's state a couple of things I believe are fact. 99% of people in this business want to win fairly. The one percent ruin it for everyone else. Horsepeople love their horses - most would not even get into the business or have it any other way. Sometimes those good people - the majority, get dragged down with the 1%, and I believe this is wrong. And I believe it is racings fault.
If a positive is announced - say a slight banamine overage where there was no intent whatsoever to cheat - there is a cry from virtually everywhere that the person "cheated". This is never, ever challenged. There is never, ever education that goes on after a positive like that. We just let everyone say that trainers cheated the public. All sides, horseman groups, tracks and commissions, should find a way to make sure the public understands that an overage, or a mistake, is not an intent to be the devil incarnate, or to hurt a horse.
Conversely, I think all sides should be against, and stand firm against the evil in the rare time it exposes itself. If it is proven beyond a doubt that Joe Blow jacked a horse with god-knows-what to steal from fellow owners and bettors, and mistreat his animal, he should be sent packing. No one wants to see a horse treated like a pin-cushion for financial gain. No one.
It is insanity that someone with snake venom that can kill drivers/jocks if a horse breaks down (not to mention kill a horse) might get six or nine months, and some puny two part per billion overage for a vitamin can get someone three months. And they are both called "cheaters".
How do we implement policies to make sure the public knows the difference and we help our game? I have a couple of ideas.
1) Employ an action plan on innocuous positives. We all know that during the off time a horse can be treated for literally dozens of things. Most with over-the-counter items (which are still illegal on race day in many cases). Educate horseplayers that horses are tested more than an olympic athlete for virtually everything. Educate them that when someone gets a penicillin positive they were not trying to cheat, they were trying to get a horse to feel healthy after getting an infection, and they treated him with respect. If Pete from down the road has a trace caffeine positive, educate the patrons that this had no bearing on the race he came third in. Tell them that the level of caffeine would not wake up a mosquito, but let them know that their money is so important to us, that this person still will receive a penalty. The commission rulings should be laser-like and filled with information, as well. The goal being - full transparency so the patrons feel confident - but details that say exactly what the positive is, and explain how/why that effects a horse. If the person did not mean to cheat - tell the patrons that! Let's change the mindset.
2) Make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed for the nefarious violators. If someone was harming a horse, get rid of them. Good-bye, see you later, go work at Wal-Mart. Use your private property rights, your legal expertise, whatever you have to but just get rid of them. And to the horseman group, should it be of their satisfaction that they are guilty: stand with tracks and bettors against them, and do so publicly. Society can not stand when a horse, against his/her will is given something dangerous for financial gain. Get rid of these people and speak with one voice. They are bad for racing, and bad for horses.
I believe that horseman organizations, grooms, tracks, bettors, trainers and everyone else are on the same side. We get too bogged down in the details and we seem to think we can not handle the truth. Treat our patrons with respect by being transparent, and do likewise with horsepeople. Transparency and education can go a long, long way.
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