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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pena Heading to the Gallops?

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Harnesslink.com, controversial trainer Lou Pena indicated he is seriously considering changing over to training thoroughbreds as a result of what he perceives was in effect a witch hunt.

"It seems to me that if you succeed, or do well in harness racing, you are branded a cheat", Pena claims in the interview, "Whereas in the galloping world if you keep winning they embrace you and dub you a champion".  To a certain degree, Pena is correct.  In thoroughbred racing, you don't see people trying to rip successful trainers apart, until they get that first serious positive.  Once that positive arrives, the rumors begin.

In the meanwhile, Pena must be happy to know that Cal-Expo would welcome Pena back provided he is licensed by the CHRB.  Being other individuals at Cal-Expo are refugees from commission problems elsewhere, I don't see obtaining a license in California will be a problem.

But one must ask does Pena have a point regarding being a victim of a de facto witch hunt?  I say yes.  Regardless of how you felt about Pena's eye-opening record and the way horses seemed to improve dramatically without hard evidence, any suspicions one has remains just that, suspicions.  Track operators have the right to exclude someone if they feel there is a business case for doing so, but with regards to licensure, without a smoking gun or a positive, the participant remains in good standing.

If a trainer fails the so-called 'smell test, there is nothing wrong with good old fashioned detective work, but getting the cooperation of another racing commission to provide veterinary records, something usually not done smells of 'Get Lou'.  Only then do officials find that allegedly that Pena violated the rules regarding withdrawal times, rules other states don't even have.  Normally, as long as a horse tests clean that is all which matters; a failed test brings the trainer sanctions. 

Yes, if the vet records are correct, it would appear Pena violated the New York rules of racing, but if not for his success, would the racing commission have taken the steps to get him?  Probably not.  How many other trainers likely violate the withdrawal rules in New York but does the state seek out vet records to investigate?  No, typically New York seeks veterinarian records only if positive(s) are detected.

So pending a decision by the NYGC to appeal or to proceed with the case, Pena is free to continue his trade and proclaim his innocence.  The court of public opinion may believe differently; this is something even the best lawyer can't fix.