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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Breeders Crown Pre-Race Drama

We are two days out from the Breeders Crown and it may turn out the biggest drama involving the Crown happened yesterday and it involves the Meadowlands and trainer Chris Oakes.  Jeff Gural, the operator of the Meadowlands has asked the New Jersey Racing Commission to scratch Oakes' horses from their respective Crown races for failing to comply with the Meadowlands requirement that horses trained by certain trainers need to be stabled in New Jersey ahead of their race.  Rather than go into all the detail here, you may read Harnessracing.com's story here.

It's no secret that Oakes is normally not allowed to race at the Meadowlands, barred from the track.  However, in situations such as the Breeders Crown which are owned by a third party (in this case, the Hambletonian Society) the ban doesn't apply. Last week Gural announced testing procedures.  Specifically, the Meadowlands press release said in part:

Looking forward to next week's Breeders Crown finals The Meadowlands, in concert with the Hambletonian Society executive and Breeders Crown committee, has made the decision to require all starters to be available for Out Of Competition (OOC) testing by stabling in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York or Connecticut. All finalists must be in one of those states by 4:00 P.M. on Wednesday Oct 26.

The Meadowlands also reserves the right to require designated horses to be stabled in New Jersey by 4:00 P.M. on Sunday, October 23. 


Oakes' horses will not be scratched.  First of all, the condition of the Breeders Crown doesn't say anything about having to obey Meadowlands' rules.  Regarding detention, the conditions indicate (I have added the emphasis):

 4.) Require, at the sole discretion of the Society, the Horse to stable on the grounds of the racetrack (“Track”) where the Race is being contested or other designated premises for a reasonable period of time prior to the Race which will be specified by the Society.

This condition of course refers to the detention barn.  Could it be interpreted to mean extended detention at another facility when the track lacks a backstretch?  I guess if you look at the rules with a loose reading it could be, but even then, it says at the sole discretion of the Hambletonian Society.  If you look at the portion of the Meadowlands press release, it indicated the decision to require designated horses to stable in New Jersey was made by the Meadowlands alone.  As a result, the NJRC will be hard pressed to find a reason to accommodate Jeff Gural's request to scratch the horse (Besides, the courts no doubt would grant an injunction against their decision).

The bigger issue is a question of fairness.  Many horsemen claim the banning of certain individuals from the Meadowlands is not consistent; the rules are being applied with a lot of discretion with 'favorites' continuing to race while others are shown the door.  I am not the one to say whether the rules are applied fairly or not.  I will say the fact these expulsions are not explained publicly makes it hard to say whether or not each trainer is being treated fairly.  Hence, perception is reality.

If the rules are not being applied fairly, Oakes argues why should he be singled out to incur additional expense and/or surveillance?   If all trainers were treated the same, we are led to believe he would agree to stabling in New Jersey or even 24 hours surveillance.  It appears the trainer is standing up for the principle of fairness.  

The case for fairness may have been better served if another trainer made the stand but alas, Oakes has made the case for it and it needs to be considered.  Lacking complete transparency, trainers have the right to complain about unfair treatment.  Could he have compromised as it appears Gural has?  Sure he can, but in this case, Oakes has made a stand and it certainly looks like he will prevail.

Breeders Crown 2016 will come and go.  The issue about fairness regarding exclusion at the three Gural-operated tracks will continue.  If the exclusion rules are not applied consistently these types of conflicts will boil up periodically.  We may as well get used to it.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeff Gural's attempt to upgrade security and control over the horses to guard against cheating is a good idea, but way too late.

Maybe the new conditions could have been imposed by the Hambletonian Society right after the controversial incidents at the Little Brown Jug. Even then, it would have been changing the rules from what they were when people paid to be eligible for the Breeders Crown.

The Breeders Crown should have the highest standards. Let's make the changes that Gural ordered, but the responsibility falls to the Hambletonian Society. Establish all the rules before anyone pays a dime and let them apply to future years and every track that hosts the Breeders Crown.

Anonymous said...

How has Gural "compromised"? How can you "soften" a stipulation that you had no right to make in the first place (since this is NOT a "Meadowlands" race, but rather one that is administered by the Hambletonian Society?)

The bigger "story" here is that one of the track's biggest sponsors (Crawford Farms) openly employs (and supports) a trainer that has been barred from the Meadowlands. Adding to that, another major track sponsor (Blue Chip Farms) employs Josh Marks, who is not just barred from Gural tracks, but is also unlicensed in virtually every jurisdiction in North America. If Gural was truly the "Champion of Integrity" he fancies himself to be, would have told BOTH farms to keep their money, and found "cleaner" sponsors. But as with all his decisions, consistency seems to be thrown out the window.

Blaine said...

Much ado about nothing....Gural's desire for clean harness racing is to be admired, but sometimes it just feels like he's targeting certain folks....

Pacingguy said...

If you ignore the fact the rules of the race left such a decision to the Society, he was willing to go to Pennsylvania and pay for 24 hour supervision instead of forcing him to stable in NJ. Yes, I said ignore the fact. Truth is in the old days he would have demanded him to come to NJ and that would have been the end of it.

I can't speak of Blue Chip Farms, but as we know nothing is black or white. I don't know how much these two sponsors pay the Meadowlands to support their races but when you are losing millions a year on a track, it is hard to turn away sponsors who fund your biggest races.

That said, if you aren't consistent, you have to expect others to (rightfully) kick and scream.

This is why the best thing would be for him to publish guidelines which could cause a person to be excluded and then stick to it. He doesn't need to tell the public the specifics, but they would be free to look at a list of guidelines to see which guideline(s) a person may have run afoul of.

Anonymous said...

Pacingguy:

It's safer, legally, to just boot someone from a private business rather than list the reasons that prompt exclusion. Once a person is given a reason, it could provide grounds to object in the courts.

Pacingguy said...

Anon,

Absolutely. I would never suggest saying John Doe got the boot for X. I am saying you list things in the regulations which says 5 major medication violations over a period of 5 years or less; two unsatisfactory drives (lest not forget drivers); license denial in a state; etc. and then stick to it without any deviation. This way every knows what will get you the boot acknowledging the need in rare situations someone else may be ejected.

It is kind of hard to get sued if you are basing decisions on hard indisputable facts.