Thursday, May 28, 2020

Positive Test Blues

The big story in racing this week is, as reported by racing's favorite Joe Drape among others, is about Derby contender Charlatan's alleged positive test for lidocaine (or an adjunct of it).

Even though we're not 100% sure of the accuracy of the reports, as Steve Crist once said when speaking of positives in the sport, the reaction tends to be, "hang 'em high, then hang 'em higher". To say a large faction of the sport is tired of them is an understatement.

To a lot of frustrated people in the sport, due process is meaningless, circumstance and intent is meaningless. Hanging 'em high and higher is like a populist wave, with a category 5 hurricane pushing it.

In this case - again alleged; I am not a lawyer obviously, but I say that because there are not even any positive tests on the docket and it's fair  - shows, to me, just how difficult this is to navigate, populist or not.

Bob Baffert supposedly had a horse test positive for something that can be used to clean a cut, or a scrape - every day horsemanship. It's pretty silly to think he's running around with a big needle of lidocaine for a stakes race, knowing it will test, and I'm sure further testing will nail that down.

So, let's move on, right? The horse's owners lose a pile of money and Derby points, Bob pays a fine.

Well, this is a high profile horse, and it's not Baffert's first scrape with a positive in a similar situation. We all remember Justify. Again that was more of a stable management issue, perhaps with some bad luck thrown in. But it was an issue.

Does strike two become a pattern where we "hang em higher", even if the facts show there was absolutely no intent to do wrong in either case?

We clearly don't want people to lose their livelihoods because of stable error with no intent to harm. But we don't want people making a mockery of the sport either.

In some jurisdictions like Hong Kong - and the populist tsunami gains traction with these arguments - stable errors are considering an affront to the racing and there ain't much debate. Remember ten or so years ago when a horse tested positive for a (legal) med? The trainer supplied video evidence that the horse in question stuck his head out of his stall, and ate out of his stable-neighbour's feed bucket which contained the additive. In Hong Kong they simply said, "we don't care, you're paying for it."

Do we want that type of adjudication in North America?

I guess this is not just a horse racing problem in this day and age. To talk politics on twitter you bring ad hominem and a sledge hammer. And if you talk nuance you're dismissed quicker than a one-legged man in a butt kicking competition. But these things demand some nuance, in my view, even if we don't like the final result.

We all wish positive tests never occurred, but they do. Figuring out what to do with them for the betterment of everyone has been a problem since forever, and probably will be for a long time. 

Have a great Thursday everyone.

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