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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Time to Ban the Trainer-Driver - Raising the Cost of Prohibited Substances

An alleged race-fixing scandal in Michigan. Allegations of trainers using illegal drugs. Standardbred racing has had more than their share of these headlines which has threatened the integrity of the sport. The problem with trainers using illegal substances is exasperated by the use of beards. Get caught using a prohibited substance and get handed a suspension? No problem. Transfer your stable’s horses to another trainer(s) and continue to train them from the background.

With regards to potential race fixing? Well, if you allow a trainer to own and drive a horse, it makes it easier to attempt to manipulate the outcome of a race as there are less people to involve in a possible conspiracy. The thoroughbred people have long recognized this possibility by not allowing their jockeys to train horses. Why haven’t we done the same? Standardbred racing has always been a family industry; going back to the days farmers raced their horses against other farmers so traditionally the owner trained and drove their own horses.

While the introduction of catch driving has begun to break down the wall, a lot of the smaller tracks still depend on trainers owning and driving their own horses; this makes it more economically feasible to race for smaller purses. While the benefit may be to make it easier to provide a supply of horses to the smaller raceways, it comes at the possible expense of racing’ integrity. Don’t think the people wagering at our major raceways are aware of what is going on in the outposts of standardbred racing; especially with the internet? You are deluding yourself.

The time has come to mandate the end of the trainer-driver. Racing commissions should no longer license individuals to train and drive in pari-mutuel races. A person who wishes to be a trainer in a specific state should still be allowed to get a license to drive in non-wagering events, but when it comes to races with wagering, a trainer must obtain services of a catch driver. What about the trainer who aspires to become a driver? They would continue to have the ability to drive in qualifying and non-wagering events, but if they wish to become a driver in races with gambling, they would have to give up their stable before being granted a driver’s license.  Drivers would no longer be able own horses.  There would be limited grandfathering allowed; trainer-drivers would have one year to decide whether they wanted to train or drive and drivers would be allowed to remain owners of any horses they owned before the rule was approved.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, banning trainer-drivers will help improve the integrity of racing. By not allowing a person to train and drive, no one will be able to collect the trainer and driver commission earned in a race. By not allowing a person to earn both commissions, it will make both the trainers and drivers hungrier to win. A driver whose income is limited to driving will race more aggressively knowing they can’t depend on their training income to keep them going and trainers will need to have their horse ready to race at first asking since they will not be able supplement their income by keeping the driver’s portion of the purse.

Furthermore, the assistant trainer category should become a separate licensing category if not already done in a particular state. A person licensed as an assistant trainer will not be allowed to become a trainer of record for any horse other than ones owned by themselves. Assistant trainers will not be allowed to bill any owners for training and will need to be paid by the trainer of record while full trainers will not be able to receive compensation from any other trainer. As with full trainers, assistant trainers will not be eligible for licensing for driving in pari-mutuel races.

By formalizing through licensing the role of an assistant trainer, it helps reduce the use of beards. No longer will trainers be able transfer horses to their assistants when they are suspended. It will discourage assistant trainers from working for trainers with a checkered past as they may end up not earning any income if their lead trainer gets suspended. An assistant trainer can convert their license to a full trainer’s license, but by implementing a period of time where a horse trained by a suspended trainer cannot be transferred to the former assistant trainer, it will make it hard to have a horse being trained by the regular trainer from the shadows. By not allowing a horse to be trained by a beard, it increases the risk involved should someone decide to medicate their horse to success.

Proposals like this will be beneficial to the industry in the long run as the wagering public will benefit by having the horses they wager on driven by drivers with a certain level of proficiency and it helps protect the integrity of racing by separating the duties of the trainer and driver as well as reduce the potential for gross medication violations.

While on the subject of integrity, I recently got a question regarding Won The West and Foiled Again racing uncoupled in the Molson Pace despite a common trainer.  The person felt this was an integrity issue.  While the purse was big and the owners were different, this person felt the horses should have been coupled as trainers sometimes have a vested interest in one horse over another in terms of getting free breeding(s) after the racing career is completed?  What do you think? 

Rooney Draws Four Entries - The Art Rooney and companion filly stake, The Lismore, at Yonkers Raceway both drew only four entries.  Business must be good for the owners of this year's three year olds to turn down the big purses these races traditionally have race for (In 2009, the Art Rooney raced for $421,850 and the Lismore raced for $293,970).  I would like to think it has more to do with competing NYSS and The Jersey Classic races on the same weekend than it has to do with the half mile track.  Race Secretaries need to do a better job of scheduling races as it is in the tracks interests to have the best horses showing up at as many tracks as possible.


Anonymous said...

While there are those sophisticated bettors who are able to surmise just which part of the entry will be "live" and who will be the sacrificial lamb. I am not worried in particular about satisfying those lifers.

I'm more concerned about those we lose who get disgusted before they reach that level of ability.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note about the Art Rooney, I am friends with a trainer who had a horse eligible and good enough to go, but decided against it due to the high cost to race in it. The total starting/entry fees are $20K. That is a lot of money to put up and the purse was lowered on the condition sheet from what was advertised in the staking info. I agree that $400K is a lot of money, but putting up twenty to be in it is a lot of money as well. And of course this begets the same old argument that half mile racing is all about post position, and 20K to draw outside is not a happy thought. Just my opinion!
Regards Rebecca

Pacingguy said...

Rebecca. thanks for the input. The lower purse on the condition sheet was probably due to a smaller number of nominations, but I do understand the risk/reward of putting up $20k and seeing the eight hole. Hopefully your trainer friend and others will tell management why the decided not to enter this year; perhaps it will encourage management to reduce the entry fee in future years.