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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Great way to begin a festival weekend of high-quality racing

The Fourth of July has an official name: Independence Day.

It marks the occasion when the American colonists said, “Enough!” to the concept of being ruled by an omnipotent king. Henceforth each colony would set its own rules and taxes while maintaining a loose alliance with the other colonies. It was the first step toward global leadership.

This is a lesson that has escaped some in racing in their quest for a racing utopia or, at the very least, a better system than the status quo. Well-meaning individuals yearn to strip the independence of the various states and jurisdictions and put racing under the control of a czar– a king, if you will.

The argument in favor of this is the other major sports—football, baseball, basketball and hockey—flourish under a powerful commissioner. This overlooks the significant difference between them and racing. Team sports are an amalgamation of franchises; granted, sold and subject to revocation by the other owners.

This, of course, is not the case with racing. Racetracks operate at the pleasure of their individual jurisdictions. While a central ruling body might strike many as a better way, there is zero chance states would surrender their control to make this possible.

The fact racing has as many different rules as it does jurisdictions is not out of step with society in general. It’s more the rule than the exception. States have wildly differing rules on how often their legislatures meet, on taxes, rules of the road, where and how liquor, cigarettes and firearms can be bought and consumed and countless other facets of life.

In some states you can still go to jail for smoking and possessing marijuana. In others, you can grow it in your front yard and smoke it in the open. Why should racing be different? Analyzing racing’s main issues, the inability to create a racing czar is not such a bad thing,

The No. 1 desire of most in racing is uniform medication rules. This might be the one area where a central ruling authority could have an impact. But it can’t happen as long as horsemen maintain the right to shut down simulcasting, the lifeblood of the sport.

The National HBPA is unbending. As soon as a Senate bill was created as a first-time companion to Barr-Tonko, the NHPBA announced its intention to oppose it as long as a Lasix ban is part of the package. If a czar can’t play a role in the most controversial issue roiling American racing, what is the point?

Even on lesser issues, it’s questionable what a czar would bring to the table.

Reduced takeout is high on fans’ wish lists but it is dependent on state tax rules, which would never take second position to a central racing ruling body.

Could a czar dictate to tracks such as Gulfstream and its copycats that races must go off in reasonable proximity to post time? Theoretically, a central racing office could turn off a simulcast picture within a minute of two of the listed post but this would last only until a state sued for loss of revenue.

The spacing of the Triple Crown has been an unending source of conversation and debate. The Kentucky Derby will never change. A czar could jawbone the Preakness and Belmont to space their jewels further apart but there is really no way to force them to do so.

While none of the desirable goals might be achievable, one of the things a racing czar would bring to the table would be an exorbitant salary and costly staff. One way or another, the cost would filter down to fans.

Not every wish can come true. Independence has worked well for America because we keep refining and hopefully improving the way we do things within the parameters set down on the first Fourth of July. Racing should be content to do the same.

Hollendorfer deserves better

The circumstances surrounding the banishment of Jerry Hollendorfer continue to become more problematic and un-American.

He was banished from The Stronach Group tracks without being told what he has done wrong. Four of his horses broke down this winter and spring but so did 26 others trained by other people.

Initially, Hollendorfer was told he was still welcome in New York. I pointed out in last week’s column that it was a safe assumption NYRA did a lot of due diligence before clearing Hollendorfer to race at Belmont and Saratoga.

Nevertheless, a couple of days later, NYRA pulled the welcome mat from under Hollendorfer. What had changed in the interim 48 to 72 hours? NYRA didn’t say. Conspiracy, anyone?

Even in North Korea, the accused is told what rules he or she has allegedly broken, even if the charges are trumped up.

By being refused the opportunity to race in New York and California, Hollendorfer, a Hall of Fame trainer who has no outstanding violations anywhere, is essentially being denied the ability to make a living while not being told why.

To make the situation even more objectionable, his horses will be allowed to race under the name of Don Chatlos, Until Hollendorfer was ruled off, Chatlos was his assistant. This sham goes on at race tracks everywhere.

Unless and until Hollendorfer is provided a defensible reason for what it is happening to him, it is hard not to conclude the exile is personal.

The entire affair is antithetical to what our founding fathers stood up for almost 250 years ago.

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5 Responses

  1. Well said, TJ.

    Your column provides much worthwhile food for thought.

    Indeed, the treatment of Jerry Hollendorfer does so far appear un-american by the standard most of us grew up with. Today, however, one can be banned from the country as well as a racetrack without the death of either a horse or a human being involved. Let’s nor forget that life-sustaining medical treatment never imagined by our forefathers can now be withdrawn from many with the stroke of a single pen!

    What is being done in stealth and silence is wrong whether it is done by (or to) a trainer, a track operator, or a state racing regulator. The ban on JH may yet avoid the un-american label with total transparency and wider ranging investigation. In the meantime, and in the spirit of Franklin, Jefferson, et al, I would encourage players to not bet NYRA until such revelations are forthcoming.

    How can one bet on a game where hiding information from the public is so widespread?

  2. BTW: Anyone here notice that with the load for the Suburban nearly complete on Saturday Preservationist was 6-1 and 7-2 at headstretch. Does anyone in charge care that there are ill effects long term and loyal rank and file horseplayers, and whales too, are continuing to leave the game behind?

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