For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, August 14, 2011

British Scandal and How it Translates to American Racing

The big news in English Racing was the four year suspension of steeplechase trainer Ben Johnson for de-nerving (3 years) the horse Striking Article, a horse with repeated cases of lameness and for the use of steroids (1 year).  Johnson got away with it, racing Striking Article, eight times until the horse broke down and was euthanized.  Only the mandatory post-mortem showed the horse had been de-nerved. The four year suspension was for violation of horse welfare rules in racing.  In the interest of disclosure, this type of de-nerving is permitted in the United States in all racing but is banned in the United Kingdom.  We could argue whether de-nerving should or shouldn't be allowed, but that would be a subject of a different blog entry.

The trainers response, was to plead ignorance.  As Johnson said, "I had no idea we had done anything wrong" he told a BBC Radio.  When he learned of his suspension, Johnson stated "I wasn't the best at reading the rules of racing".  But the best defense he had was "He was a subject of a witch hunt".

It appears to me that unless Johnson never read the rules of racing, which may be more the case, he probably didn't care about the rules.  One would certainly think a veterinarian that takes care of race horses would probably know about the rule and Mr. Johnson probably decided "to hell" with the rules.  Whether he was a subject of a witch hunt or not is moot; no one told him to de-nerve the horse or use anabolic steroids.  Anyway, being he is 58 years old, he decided not to fight the suspension and to go into retirement.

Perhaps the most upsetting part of this story was the response of his principal owner, Graham Wylie who was quoted as saying his trainer was treated "like a criminal".  Well, yeah you could say that Mr. Johnson probably deserved to be treated as such for this violation.  Anyway, Mr. Wylie's ultimate response is to his trainer getting caught and suspended is to get out of the business.

Which brings me to the point of this blog entry.  Forget about the nerving of Striking Article, that is an exception.  How many owners of horses that are trained by trainers that get caught for serious infractions of the rules (not over/under the limit or accidental contamination) fire their trainers in any breed?  Sadly, not many.  In many cases they will move their horse to another trainer until their trainer's suspension is over or the horse will be transferred to a beard until the trainer comes back.  How often do they fire the trainer when he/she gets caught with a serious infraction (give them the benefit of doubt and wait fir the appeals to run their course)?  How often will they remain with the trainer  with a less than honorable record because they feel it will make them money and bypass the honorable trainers?  Unfortunately, far too many times.  If they do anything else, they are probably more likely to do what Mr. Wylie did; get out of racing.

This is not to say some owners don't do the right thing.  I am sure they do.  The problem is we don't hear about them.  I would love to see the racing media do stories on such owners who in effect 'fire' their trainers when they are caught violating the rules of racing.  On top of these news stories, I would love to see the USTA or USHWA award  a "Do Right" award during the Night of Champions to one of those owners who fired their trainer when they violated the rules of racing  It would be refreshing to see and possibly encourage others to fire the cheats.

Bet 5 for Larry Results - The Meadowlands reports that the Bet 5 For Larry benefit last night raised over $10,000 for Larry Lederman's medical bills.  Thank you for those who participated.

See You At Peelers Scratched:  Prior to SYAP's race, the connections of See You At Peelers scratched the horse due to the deteriorating weather conditions which impacted the track (horses which don't break were breaking).  The fear of her getting hurt was the reason for the scratch.  I can't blame the ownership for what they did; I probably would have done the same thing.  However, you have to wonder about the disappointment of those who showed up today to see the Queen of Pacing.    Make no mistake, Takter's team made the right move, but it is once again an example of the divergent interests of the owners and horseplayers.  Meanwhile, the win streak holds at 21 wins.


Scott Jeffreys said...

Dear Pacingguy : During Sunday's card at Tioga, See You at Peelers was announced by Darin Zocalli as being on the track on at least two different occasions.

So, while this blog entry points to the divergent interests of owners and horseplayers, the horseplayers who were part of the live audience (reported at 850 punters) did get to see SYAP on the track before conditions deteriorated. The only "opportunity" that was missed by the crowd was a chance to cash a win ticket at $2.20.

Sincerely, Scott

Pacingguy said...


Again I don't disagree with the decision from a horseowner's perspective, but I don't think the people seeing SYAP warming up is what they wanted. They wanted to see her race. I am sure there were some who were disappointed.

Pacingguy said...

Scott, you mentioned 850 punters at Tioga Downs. The number was surpressed due to the weather. A typical Sunday afternoon crowd at Tioga is in the 2,000s.

Scott Jeffreys said...

Dear Pacingguy : Have been to Tioga many times - have interviewed Jason for a Hoof Beats piece, so I know all about the Tioga Renaissance. Trust me - I am a Tioga believer and wish with all my heart that I could pick up Tioga and drop it at the intersection of Exit 68 on the Long Island Expressway - home of the now torn-down Parr/Suffolk Meadows. If Yonkers is augmenting its purses as you see it, imagine what a Long Island Raceway would be doing by now.

(Side note : Suddenly, those Roosevelt Raceway Hempstead IDA Bonds do not seem a lucrative, do they?)

Back on topic though, let's be realistic about the situation : if more than a couple dozen of the 850 came to see Peelers race that Sunday afternoon (and to get a chance at the pending $2.20 mutuel) that would have been huge. My point is that the fans who wanted to see the big horse got to see him perform - albeit in warm-ups.

Sincerely, Scott

Pacingguy said...

Scott, we will need to disagree. If I came to see a horse race, I would feel cheated if I saw anything less. If they said SYAP was going to train, that would be one thing. It is a case of not meeting expectations.

On another note, do you know of what rule allows the connections to scratch a horse due to the track being sloppy or not liking the surface? I have to wonder if the rules were bent to allow the streak to keep intact.

Scott said...

Dear Pacingguy : I consulted with the Racetrack Industry Model Rules committee at the University of Arizona to get a statement on the standard rules for declaring a horse after programming.

Literally scouring this document and others, I cannot turn up a standard rule regarding scratches caused by track condition.

Sincerely, Scott