Harness racing writer Andrew Cohen, in a column on Harnesslink once again speaks out regarding the problem of illict medication in racing. While the article follows up on his column from last week where he discusses allegations of doping and the interview by Brett Sturman of Lou Pena, this week's column gets to the crux of the problem; how there is a widespread problem with drugging of horses and how it impacts the future of standardbred racing with respect to ownership and attracting new fans.
It is not my intention to discuss any individual case here or name names, but let me ask these questions:
Why does the NJRC seem to be more willing to negotiate medication offenses versus other states? Could it be they are trying to keep their expenses down rather than fight in court? Perhaps because the cost of the racing commission is passed back to the tracks?
Why did the state of New Jersey get rid of their horse racing unit of the NJ State Police, the very group that investigated and arrested individuals associated with Eric and Sheldon Ledford? Why did the Meadowlands decided to stop putting two or three random overnight races a night in the detention barn? It may not have uncovered additional cases of drugging but some trainers did better out of the detention barn and some did worse; clearly it helped level the playing field somewhat.
Would a racing commission less willing to negotiate, the existence of a division of the state police dedicated to horses racing, regular use of the detention barn alone stop these problems? Likely not, but what kind of message is being sent to potential cheaters?
This goes past New Jersey.....
Look at the penalties issued for medication violations in some states. Get caught? It is the cost of doing business. Like everything else, it boils down to the risk/reward ratio. What is the risk (fine, suspension) and compare it to the reward? Right now, the risk is so little people are willing to take a chance. Change the rules to make it harder to use a beard (it's possible), make it harder for trainers to game the system when they get caught, and make owners who decide to use trainers with a recent history of violations pay a penalty when they get caught. Trainers will think twice about cheating and owners will think twice about using these trainers.
I know the argument, How can you penalize the owners, especially when you are trying to attract new owners? Because we need to stop owners from leaving highly regarded and competent trainers who play by the rules to go to trainers with known medication violations. When you give a trainer a horse, you basically hire them. If you wouldn't hire them to work for you in your regular business you have no business hiring them to train your horses. If they get caught breaking the rules by medicating your horse, you need to suffer as well as the trainer.
Certainly, most trainers and owners play by the rules, but the bad ones are hurting the integrity of the sport, jeopardizing its future. How many times do you think an existing or new owner is going to tolerate purchasing or claiming a horses whose form changes dramatically once they get their hands on it? How many times is the gambler going to tolerate seeing a horse with a dramatic form reversal before they disappear? Just as important, with society's increasing demand for better treatment of animals, how long do you think they are going to tolerate what they consider the widespread use of drugs in racehorses?
It is time racing stops treating illegal medication as a problem, but a threat to its existence. Because it is.
For those looking for selections for Tioga Downs as well as my thoughts regarding the Metro Six Shooter, it will be provided in the next posting.