Monday, March 14, 2011
Why Not Cheat?
(CHICAGO, IL – March 14, 2001) So much has been made of last week's Life At Ten ruling that another setback in the sport's quest for integrity seemed to pass by unnoticed. Perhaps it's because trainers are banned from the racecourse with alarming regularity. Being warned off for 90 days by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board the way Rick Dutrow, Jr. was recently for alledgely drugging a horse with an illegal substance doesn't seem like such a serious matter. An initiative on the part of the NTRA to improve the public's perception that horse racing is a legitimate competition has made headway, but it'll get nowhere until serious changes in practice are instituted.
Dutrow's latest flaunting of the rules came into focus sharply a couple Saturdays ago. The former trainer of such stars of the turf as Big Brown and Saint Liam saddled the winner of Gulfstream Park's Hutcheson Stakes. His productive work with Peachtree Stable's Flashpoint put the handy son of Pomeroy in some peoples' mind as a Kentucky Derby candidate. Nevertheless, if the horse ever got that far, Dutrow might be watching him race on TV from the hoosegow instead of Churchill Downs’ third floor clubhouse.
Many people might sympathize with this continuously-troubled man had this been the first time he's stumbled. But Dutrow has been charged with violating the rules 64 times in nine different states, including several dozen times on charges that should put a man down forever. If someone employed in another industry had as many run-ins with the law as he, they'd be rendered unemployable. In fact, Dutrow’s horse training business has felt no adverse effect from his troubles.
Other than a small loss of some respect, owners who hire trainers with a suspension-riddled past lose little by employing the otherwise unemployable. They pay no penalty when these employees veer off course and gain much when their wayward path leads to success on the racetrack. When the trainers get caught doing something they shouldn’t have done, it is business as usual for their horses. Life goes on uninterrupted as an alter ego fills in while his exiled boss vacations. Customers representing the horse's future, namely breeders, and profiteers representing the horse's past, namely bettors, watch idly. By the sin of omission, they’re complicit in the crimes being committed.
"Why not cheat?" asked Peter Meder, an executive search consultant for some of the country’s biggest companies. He can’t understand why all the participants in an out-of-sorts racing experience aren’t penalized. “What a perfect game!” he exclaimed, adding disbelief that every owner didn’t avail himself of a guy who was willing to be hoisted by his own petard without exploding his co-conspirators into disrepute. Meder said that employers in industry are routinely held liable for the misdeeds of their employees.
“Every one of my clients does drug testing and criminal background checks,” Meder said, admitting that the tests are conducted because the liability is too great if a company hires a known offender. A chief financial officer of a company will lose his job if a person he brought on board is responsible for a violation that relates to fiduciary malfeasance. Even if a man made millions of dollars for a company, he would be fired for cheating on his expense account. Horse racing, being a gambling game, becomes fraudulent when people invest their money on predicting the outcome in races in which some participants are playing at an undisclosed advantage.
If the consequences of recidivism weren’t so prevalent in horse racing, the sport would be held up as a standard for finding work for ex-offenders. Cities and states all across America are trying to establish programs that encourage employers to hire people returning to society from prison. In the corporate world, employers see the potential for negligent hiring liability and public relations nightmares and ex-offenders have trouble finding jobs. In horse racing, the owners go Scot-free when their ex-offending trainers behave badly. The job market remains open to everyone, even egregious violators.
Uniform rules that impact owners and trainers alike across all jurisdictions would reduce violations and are a possibility within the context of a centralized authority or comprehensive compact. It would be unlikely for horse racing as currently organized to punish the producers of some of its biggest stars. The public thrives on the success of individuals, caring little about how it's attained. Major League Baseball's attendance soared when players were breaking records because they were abetted by steroids. Only golf seems to honor a code which insists that victory be achieved without taking shortcuts.
Some people believe that there's an imaginary line that creates a distinction between cheating and using the rules to one’s advantage. It’s in this context that good people get caught, causing further decline in the trust given the sport by outsiders. In truth, there is only one line. It is hard and plain – this is right, that is wrong, why not stick to the straight and narrow. If you do, you won’t worry what people think and where your next paycheck comes from.
“Somebody in the current system loves the way things are,” Meder hypothesized. He believes that the majority of horse owners could easily change what is going on if they wanted. “The owners will ultimately pay the price for not doing anything, because they won’t have a sport,” Meder concluded. “If you go to the track and you think that the deal is rigged, you’re not going to invest in the market.”
Vic Zast is on Facebook and Twitter. He invites you to learn about his plans for the summer at ourlongestdrive.com.