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Friday, November 25, 2011

Cohen Says Farewell

Andrew Cohen, columnest for Harness Racing Update has written his last regular column for the publication, moving on to new endeavors.  However, with his departure, he takes aim at what he considers the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability when it comes to race fixing and doping.

Perhaps the worst thing that came out of his article was his admission he would not be able to write a column as he did in 2006 for Barrons where he extolled "the virtues of harness racing. I was a new owner then and to the weekly business paper’s rich and famous audience I made the case that our industry was well worthy of the investment of time and money. I wrote: “Race-fixing practices that were once way too common are on their way out. New testing technologies are being used to ensure that horse doping is both uncovered and punished.”

When you have a columnist who takes a 180 degree change in opinion there is a problem.  Considering how few journalists there are covering harness racing, a loss of a columnist is a tragedy.  How did we get to this point?

No, I am not about to write a column on anyone individual.  The problem is we have an industry that is financially 'bankrupt'.  How can I say that with the racinos?  It is easy as it is an industry in a bubble.  Non-racinos are basically broke and they can't afford to spend money on better testing.  The racinos who are racing because they have too have no interest in spending money on improving testing for drugs.

Horsemen at racinos have money, but to think they are going to spend money on improving testing is naiive.  You will hear them say that is the tracks' and regulator's job to rout out cheating..  So what about the regulators?  Regulators in some states get their funding directly from the tracks.  Well, if the tracks are watching what they are spending, do you think they are going to encourage the regulators to spend more money on developing new testing?

But the worst part is the regulation of the sport itself.  Go look at the USTA's fines and suspensions list and you will see fines and suspensions which instead of hurting offending participants are more like the cost of doing business.  At times it seems like a revolving door.  The industry fines a trainer or driver who makes $1,000 a year the same as the person who earns $100,000 a year.  What kind of discouragement is that?  When they finally put the hammer down on some individuals, the regulators often come to a settlement, probably to cut litigation costs; once again due to the tracks funding regulation directly or indirectly and the encouragement to cust costs.  Someone has to really be bad before they get thrown out.  Why don't the regulators keep track of assistant trainers and  who is working for who so we can't have these assistant trainers beome beards.

I think there are plenty of honest people in the sport. But I am not naive.  Instead of blaming an attitude of "I see no evil, I hear no evil", the problem is with the way the industry is regulated.  Until you make the sport's penalties so severe that people won't dare try to gain an advantage, some people will continue to push the envelope.  Maybe we need to have some type of national regulation; something needs to be done..  :

In the meanwhile, I wish Andrew Cohen success in future endeavors and hopefully things will change so he feels he can return to harness racing journalism on a regular basis.

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