Let me state right now, I have had doubts about Lou Pena's success since he came to the East coast. No one is that good. When the Meadowlands was promoting Mr. Pena, on the message boards people were warning about him and couldn't understand that the Meadowlands was highlighting him. Of course, my suspicions were based on gut feeling and my experience in racing when I owned a horse years ago and my knowledge as a fan, after all you follow the game for almost 40 years and you can't help but learn something. So while my heart and brain told me one thing, I have tried to stay as neutral as possible in covering Pena's rise and success on the East Coast because of the lack of evidence.
We know the NJRC was watching Pena like a fox last year, including a stable search at Gaitway Farms and taking blood samples of all his horses; nothing came up. Apparently other people were troubled with Pena's success as he was excluded from Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, and this year, the Meadowlands. He was excluded temporarily from Yonkers Raceway before being allowed to return. That's fine, the tracks are private property and the owner has the right to exclude individuals they fear may ruin their racing band.
All seemed quiet until late last week came the news that the NYSRWB, with the assistance of the NJRC went over the veterinary records of Pena which appear to show violations of the withdrawal schedule for legal medications (Disclosure, I am not an expert on medications so I can't speak about the legitimacy of all the medications). This despite virtually no positives on blood testing.
For argument sake, let's assume the veterinarian records are accurate and Mr. Pena authorized the administration of the substances. It would appear the NYSRWB and harness racing has gotten their man and are planning to boot him out. Many in the industry will applaud Pena's departure from the scene and likely, will offer him up as proof that racing is serious about catching drug cheats.
If Pena is tossed from racing as a result of these charges, so be it. People should be playing within the rules and even if the medications didn't impact the outcome of a race, it doesn't excuse such behavior. My problem is with the way it is being done.
What we really have here is the lynching of Pena and the inadequacy of blood testing exposed. Yes, it may be proven in the hearing that Pena is indeed guilty of having medications injected into some of his horses after the New York approved withdrawal times; an apparent violation of the rules of racing. But how did we get here?
For brevity sake, we know the NJRC couldn't get Pena when checking his stable and drawing blood on all of his horses. We know horsemen where Pena competed were complaining about him to the point the racing office at Yonkers modified some classes to make it harder for Pena to keep entering the same horses without making them step up in claiming price. Horsemen resented his success as it took money out of their pockets and cost them horses. Basically those who couldn't compete with Pena wanted him out, somehow.
It is clear the testing of race horses is totally inadequate. How does a person who has supposedly 1,719 violations (let's call them technical violations) involving 635 races not get detected in drug testing? Either the testing methodology is not sufficient or states are not testing for all medications due to the monetary issues.
Yes, a precedent was set in New York to act upon veterinarian records when Carmine Fusco was banned for five years when records indicated Fusco had his horse treated with prohibited substances five times, but the records were reviewed based on a positive. But to look at the vet records without a reason, just looking around? It sounds like racing interests wanted to find a way to kick Pena out of racing,somehow. To me this is very similar to the way the Feds who couldn't prove anything major against Al Capone went through his tax returns and got him for tax evasion.
So it appears Pena may get nailed on technical violations of the rules and racing will have gotten their man. The lynch mob will be satisfied and racing will go back to normal, with the same inadequate drug testing.
What troubles me the most is the hypocrites in the lynch mob, the people who would be in trouble if the racing commissions looked at their veterinary records. Yes, there are honest trainers, but the fact remains a number of trainers (and owners) verbally going after Pena are primarily upset Pena may have been cheating better than they have; not that cheating is occurring.
So what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I suggest the racing commissions start looking at the vet records whenver a horse has an eye opening performance or a trainer's record is too good to be true. Some people claim lasix is a performance enhancer, but you won't see the standardbred horsemen call for that medicine to be restricted. Let's see racing commissions jack up their fines and suspensions to the level the NYSRWB is threatening Mr. Pena with I bet you the hypocrites will be the first ones complaining about the rule changes and toughened penalties.
What do you think? Am I wrong or do you agree?