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Sunday, February 10, 2013

An Industry Determined to Self-Destruct

Since I have been writing this blog for the past four years, I have been amazed by those who are doing their best to keep this industry afloat and yes, grow.  I have also shaken my head at those people who seem to do their best to frustrate such efforts, typically happy with the status quo, milking the industry until it goes extinct.

But now, according to Harness Racing Update, we come to an incident which clearly shows how there are people in this industry determined not only to frustrate positive steps but to also help the industry self-destruct.  While the Meadowlands is seeing handles they have not attained for several years and there is a new sense of optimism at the East Rutherford track with gamblers feeling for the first time in a while that management and horsemen are doing their best to provide races with the highest possible integrity, we have someone trying to kill that momentum.

HRU reports that Showplace Farms, one of the major training facilities in New Jersey is trying to put restrictions on Gural investigator Brice Cote regarding his prospective actions at the Englishtown, NJ facility.  To be fair, some of Showplace's requests are reasonable, while others are not.  According to HRU, Showplace is asking that Cote:
--Has a sit-down with Showplace management to discuss his plans.
--Furnishes photocopies of a New Jersey Racing Commission license.

--Agrees to a mutually agreed-upon Indemnification Agreement.
--Agrees to sign in out at the Showplace offices each time he visits the facility.
--Agrees to show up at the farm only during normal training hours

A sit down with Showplace management for a general discussion of how his investigations will take place is reasonable.  Asking for a photocopy of a NJRC license is problematic in that the racing commission does not license  external investigators since all investigations presently are performed by in-house investigators.  Agreeing to a mutually agreed-upon indemnification agreement seems to be appropriate, depending what the terms are.  Agreeing to have Brice Cote sign in and out at the Showplace office each time he visits the facility is a non-starter as is agreeing to show up at the farm during 'normal' training hours.

Let me remind you of what all trainers needed to sign to compete at the Meadowlands this year.

27. In consideration of the Meadowlands granting me the privilege of racing at Meadowlands Racetrack, I hereby appoint the Meadowlands Racetrack, its officers, agents or representatives as my agent for the limited purpose and authority to enter, without prior notice, the ship in stalls at Meadowlands Racetrack and/or any other premises, either in-state or out-of-state, including but not limited to any off -track stabling facilities, farms, training centers or other racetrack facilities, for the purpose of checking on the wellbeing and health of any racehorse listed on this application or entered in any upcoming Meadowlands race by me as trainer. Checking the wellbeing and health of any such racehorse shall include but not be limited to the taking of blood or urine or other testing procedures by the Meadowlands officer, agent or representative.  By acknowledgement of this limited agency given by me to the Meadowlands officers, agents or representatives, I acknowledge and agree that the Meadowlands officer, agent or representative is my agent or guest or invitee and is permitted to enter any of the above mentioned premises as my agent, guest or invitee. Additionally, I agree to produce at my own cost and within 24 hours of a request by the Meadowlands officer, agent or representative, any horse listed on this application or any horse which is entered in any Meadowlands race which is under my custody and control and which I am listed as trainer of record, for the purpose of blood, urine or other testing procedures at a designated location at Meadowlands Racetrack or other location designated by the Meadowlands.  In Meadowlands sole discretion and for good cause shown, this time frame can be extended at my written request. In the event of non-cooperation and failure to adhere to these conditions, I am subject to the loss of privileges to enter horses at Meadowlands Racetrack. By signing this application, I further acknowledge and agree that the grant of racing privileges at the Meadowlands Racetrack is a privilege afforded me by Meadowlands Racetrack and is not a property right.

By signing this agreement, the trainers have made Cote their agent, someone who is entitled to enter any training facility as if he was their own employee; unfettered access.  Why any public training facility would attempt to block what their tenants have agreed upon is beyond me.  Do stable employees need to sign in and out and show up only during normal business hours (are there normal business hours in the horse industry)?
Can you imagine an investigator having to sign-in or sign-out at an office where he is seeking to investigate potential wrong doing?  Talk about losing the element of surprise.  Being limited to arrive at a training facility only during normal business hours?  It is reassuring to know a trainer, if predisposed to cheating will only treat their horses between the hours of 9 to 5.

One has to wonder if this became an issue since Cote mentioned in an earlier interview with HRU, "If I have information that people are doing something that is criminal I will take it to the proper authorities. I will be the informant, or whatever you would like to call it. I will bring the information to them and work in concert with them so they can continue their investigation".   This is not to suggest any particular trainer is doing something wrong or training centers condone cheating, but just the same, perhaps statements like this may be having some trainers thinking of moving their base of operations to other states, especially if they are not racing at the Meadowlands, which could impact the bottom line for those who operate training centers.
What are those horseplayers who follow racing closely going to think if this story gets better known?  Are they going to ask themselves what really goes on at these training centers, reinforce their perceptions of cheating?  Being NJ training centers are used by trainers who race at other tracks besides the Meadowlands, does it hurt the integrity of racing at those tracks as well?

I understand the concern some may have regarding how far Brice Cote may go in his investigations.  What happens if investigating a Meadowlands trainer he comes across a possible problem with a trainer who doesn't race at the Meadowlands?  A reasonable solution may be establishing guidelines where any such potential problem with a trainer with no connection to a Meadowlands trainer is discovered, that particular incident is off-limits to Cote and his staff; it is referred to the proper authorities for them to decide what if anything is to be done. 
The one thing we know is if Showplace (and possibly other training centers) and the Meadowlands doesn't reach a mutually acceptable solution, trainers racing at the Meadowlands stabled at Showplace will likely have to move to other training centers (assuming room is available) or find their entries being refused.  If the trainers leave Showplace and the training facility is unable to fill those vacated stalls do they seek redress for lost income?

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this whole mess is someone is finally taking a stand for the gambler and 'clean' trainer by trying to level the playing field by attempting to keep the cheats out of their racetrack and instead of supporting the effort, others are trying to throw up roadblocks.   

I understand the feelings some may have in feeling Jeff Gural's effort to restore racing integrity to his tracks may be overreaching but may I remind them if horsemen were not loathe to self-police themselves in the past and when necessary informed the authorities of wrong doers, we would not be at the point we are at now.



Anonymous said...


Lacking knowledge about NJ farm operations, can you explain what policy currently exists at Showplace regarding sign in/sign out procedures for owners, trainers and their employees? What about guests or visitors?

If anyone other than Mr. Cote can come and go as they please, it indicates Showplace management is simply playing the role of obstructionist.

I doubt the investigator has a right to enter private property without permission and Showplace probably has the law on its side since it's not party to what trainers signed with The Meadowlands.

If I were running the training center, I'd be very careful about interfering with the investigator. Legally right could be very bad for business.

Pacingguy said...

I don't know their sign-in procedures or if there are any.

I have no problem if Mr. Cote has to follow the procedures all tenants need to with regards to gaining admittance but I dare suspect they are attempting to put restrictions on him.

Where I think Showplace has a problem is the trainers have by signing the racing application, made Cote their agent, the same way an assistant trainer or groom is an agent of the trainer. Showplace wouldn't try to stop a groom from coming on the grounds so I don't legally know how they can stop Cote from coming on the grounds.

Is there a lawyer who can voice their opinion on this?

Anonymous said...

One of the problems with this whole situation is that Mr. Gural and his investors race their OWN horses at The Meadowlands. Does anybody really believe that Mr. Cote (or anybody that might work for The Meadowlands) is EVER going to start investigating any of the trainers that work for Gural or those investors? If you're part of the "in crowd", won't it be perceived, rightly or wrongly, that you basically have a "free pass" while your MAIN COMPETITION is always under scrutiny? Should any business owner allow his competitors to have unfettered access to his "business", and isn't that what many trainers are being forced to do? There has to be a better way to accomplish the goals here without making it seem like a potential witch hunt.

Pacingguy said...

The problem is no one in the industry is willing to step up and do something so it is up to Gural to deal with the problem.