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Friday, September 10, 2010

Drivers Drive, Trainers Train, and Neither Shall the Two Mix

With the recent suspensions in Canada of drivers Forward, Piroski, and Wallis for alleged participation in Michigan and Ontario race fixing, the time has come to separate the duties between drivers and trainers.  Drivers should not be able to own or train race horses.  Before the tar and feathers come out, let me explain why we need to do this.  It is called separation of duties.

Let me preface this by saying the overwhelming number of people involved in the industry are honest and would never take part in race fixing.  That being said, when you have drivers training and possibly owning their own horses, it is easier to fix a race.  There are fewer people involved, making it less likely news of the conspiracy gets out.  After all, if a driver were to stiff a race in this situation, there is no trainer to explain to.  At a smaller track, where the driver/trainer owns the horse, there is no unhappy owner either to calm down; no horse leaving your stable.  There is less accountability; one less person watching the proverbial store.

The thoroughbred industry long ago learned the problem of not having accountability between a rider and trainer by not allowing jockeys to own or train horses.  Hence in the rare occasion where there has been a race fixing scandal in the thoroughbred industry you tend to see only one jockey involved.  When there is a harness racing race fixing scandal you tend to see a group of drivers involved.

If we divided the duties, we could reduce the chance of another scandal by making sure a driver doesn't train a horse.  One suspect drive and a trainer can fire the driver, something that can't be done when they are one and the same person.  Sooner or later, a driver bent on wrong-doing may find themselves without a trainer willing to use them.

Don't think this is a problem?  Read Cangamble's thoughts on the current scandal in Ontario and see how quickly he and those who read his column are about to play a harness race again.  Many more gamblers are thinking the same thing which is why it is hard to attract these gamblers to wager on harness racing.  If harness racing ever expects to be accepted by the majority of horse players as a legitimate wagering option, racing will need to eliminate the driver/trainer once and for all and change the perception.

I understand implementing a rule where a driver can't own or train horses immediately will cripple many small tracks.  However, a sensible approach to implementing such a ban in a timely manner can mitigate some of the hardship the smaller tracks will face.  I would suggest the following:

  • Effective January 1, 2011, drivers will no longer be able to purchase an interest in a horse.  They will be able to maintain ownership in any horses they owned prior to this date.  In addition, no dual (trainer/driver) licenses will be issued to new licensees; they may only obtain a trainers or drivers license.  Any such declaration must be consistent in each state.
  • Effective January 1, 2012, existing licensees may only be licensed as a trainer or driver.  A driver may obtain a conditional trainers license which will only allow them to train horses owned by them as of January 1, 2011.  A trainer may have a Q/F license and drive in qualifying races or non-wagering events at fairs.  Once these horses have stopped racing, the conditional trainers license will become void.  No driver may be licensed as a trainer in another state and vice-versa.  Should a trainer wish to change to a drivers license, any horses owned by him must be sold prior to receiving a drivers license.  Transfer of ownership means the horse must be sold to someone not in his/her family. 

I understand that harness racing has its roots in the trainer/driver relationship and especially at the smaller tracks the trainer/driver is still prominent when compared to the larger tracks.  However, harness racing can't afford any more race fixing scandals.  The time has come to completely cease the trainer/driver relationship if we wish to present ourselves as a viable wagering alternative to the thoroughbred player. 

Is this punitive to the honest horseman?  Perhaps, but as is the case in the real world, all is not fair.  Look at jai-lai in Connecticut.  One game fixing scandal was all it took to put jai-lai in Connecticut in its death spiral.  At one point there were three fontons; now there are none.  Yes, race fixing scandals are rare, but how many more can harness racing survive?  Do we want to find out?  The industry must take every step possible to make it harder to fix races.  Separating duties will make it less likely we will have a major race fixing scandal again.   

While NYSS action continues at various tracks in the New York, all eyes will be looking at Yonkers Raceway where the precocious two year old filly trotter Jezzy looks to extend her eight race winning streak in the sixth race.  This daughter of Credit Winner has been racing primarily in the NYSS since her pari-mutuel debut at the Meadowlands in the Acorn Stakes where she set her lifetime mark of 1:57.3.  Since her win in the Acron, she has won six straight NYSS events and a division of the Tompkins-Geers in such convincing manner that she's been 1-10 or less in each start.

Well, Jezzy looks to extend her steak to nine races Friday night and it there is little doubt she will have no problem doing so.  Is she this good?  After all, she has been racing predominantly in the sires stakes and other than  her pari-mutuel debut at the Meadowlands and her victory in the Tompkins-Geers, she has been racing exclusively state breds.  The potential is there.  Unfortunately, since Jezzy has not been nominated for the Bluegrass or International Stallion Stakes at the Red Mile, there is a good chance she will be concluding her campaign once the NYSS finals are contested unless her connections decide to air her out in an overnight at the Red Mile.    However, based on her ability to race on the engine and off the pace successfully, indicates a very handy filly.  Clearly when discussing favorites for the 2011 Hambletonian Oaks, Jezzy merits consideration if she continues her dominating ways.

Let's take a look at some of the NYSS action this weekend:

Yonkers Raceway, Friday, September 9
2nd Trot - $77,793; NYSS -2yo Fillies 1st Div
2 - Some Girls (Brunet, 4-5)
4 - Oakiedokie Hanover (Brennan, 5-1)
5 - Rejoycing (Gregory, 8-1)

4th Trot - $77,793; NYSS - 2yo Fillies 2nd Div
5 - Conwaylassie (Brennan, 8-5)
6 - Imageofasweetday (Stark, 6-1)
2 - Epona Blue Chip (Schnittker, 4-1)

6th Trot - $79,193; NYSS - 2yo Fillies 3rd Div
1 - Jezzy (Schnittker, 3-5)
4 - Tap Tap Dance (Daley, 6-1)
6 - Eight Bells (Manzi, 8-1)
Coupled: Jezzy and Swee Possession

Vernon Downs, Saturday, September 11
3rd Pace - $44,800; NYSS - 2yo Colts and Geldings 1st Div
4 - Roadside Delight (Mccarthy, 2-1)
3 - Major Way (Bartlett, 3-1)
5 - Townslight Hanover (Morrill, 9-2)
Coupled: Remus Blue Chip and Reflection of Blue

5th Pace - $45,600; NYSS - 2yo Colts and Geldings 2nd Div
8 - Flipper J (Bartlett, 9-2)
5 - American Romance (Marks, 5-2)
3- Sir Ziggy's Z Tam (Lachance, 7-2)

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