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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


In the Thoroughbred racing industry, justice it just a seven-letter word. It’s no different in meaning than its antonyms; words like prejudice or inequality or bias or discrimination or unfairness or any other description one can conjure.

Racing rules and penalties are set by willfully ignorant political appointees who in the end do what they’re told, and they commit their crimes of omission behind closed doors.

California resolves that anytime positives are found, it’s the result of innocent contamination and they decide so behind closed doors, saying never mind that Justify exited his Santa Anita Derby win with a positive.

They’ll simply sit on that news and wait for the Kentucky Derby results, or maybe after the Preakness, or after a Triple Crown is won, or after he’s whisked off stage and into the breeding shed. Then don’t forget to close the door.

When Charlatan and Gamine tested positive for lidocaine, a pain numbing agent, it was because a talented horseman and trusted assistant was treating a personal backache, soothing it with Salonpas. And what happened next?

Gamine returned to win the Grade 1 Acorn by a mere 19 lengths. Charlatan can run whenever he wants, wherever he wants. The Arkansas Racing Commission sure took its sweet time with those drug samples. Split samples can take some time to affirm, a convenient coincidence.

And of seven equine sudden-deaths? Innocent victims of barn contamination, of course.

Simply stated, these were cases of justice denied or justice delayed. Only the Jordan Rules needed to apply here. We do what we want because we can.

The Kentucky Racing Commission was first stop in the framing of an innocent man because of a vendetta against a trainer who left high school early because he loved to work with horses. He had success and he rubbed the establishment’s nose in it.

Guilty: 10 years. We could care less about precedent or conflict of interest where members of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board implored Kentucky to get the license-revocation ball rolling by getting the Commonwealth to call Rick Dutrow in for a “get on the same page” meeting.

Not long thereafter, his name was stricken from the official Keeneland program for a horse he trained in a graded stakes race while the horses were on the track for the post parade. He was replaced on the spot because the KHRC had the power. Unprecedented, just like the 10-year revocation to follow.

While the stage was being set, a New York state investigator of dubious reputation planted syringes in the trainer’s desk draw inside his barn on the Aqueduct backstretch, from which no horse ever suffered a racing or training fatality at any New York Racing Association track for 11 straight years.

And so the trainer returned home for an administrative state hearing in which there is no presumption of innocence. The Queens District Attorney ultimately found that the state investigator who planted the evidence, corroborated by testimony from New York State Steward, perjured himself.

There were approximately 2,500 industry signatures calling for Dutrow’s reinstatement for time served. He had no wish to relitigate or embarrass the state, just a chance to make a living with the only thing he’s qualified to do; a Hall of Fame talent with a penchant for speaking out of turn.

The Kentucky Commission was ‘magnanimous’, allowing Dutrow to withdraw his license application so it wouldn’t appear that he applied and lost, thus further tarnishing the record: Pontius Pilate reincarnate.

And could you surmise that the KHRC has a precious policy whereby they “do not comment publicy on decisions” made in closed session. I was unaware but apparently transparency in the Commonwealth is a four-letter word.

Here’s the thing: Dutrow has three more years to serve on his 10-year revocation and the chances are he would win a lawsuit and be awarded mega-millions when all the truth that already has surfaced is duly considered and acted up.

What’s crazy is that the man whom I’ve gotten to know over six years would probably give all that up if he could work with horses again, signing any “special condition” placed before him.

What they fear is that he will return and when he wins at the same rate, the embarrassment only will further infuriate the powerful more.

For readers who may not have intimate knowledge of HRI, or learning about the Dutrow issue for the first time, this site lost two of its staffers this past year because they are convinced that fighting the good fight is a waste of time and that the status quo will continue to rule the day.

They probably are right and I’m the romantic simpleton, hoping against hope. Well it’s too late for me to stop now. If I did, I would feel that a half-century of my life’s work has been a complete waste of time.

I presently live in a country where a well-connected man convicted of seven felonies by a jury of his peers can have his sentence commuted while another without powerful contacts can be summarily ignored.

Further, he can be made to sit out a 10-year revocation based on a conspiracy of lies and planted evidence while the gentry, sans portfolio, can continue to hide behind closed doors.

Today I’m supposed to be excited because Saratoga opens tomorrow and the Haskell is being renewed Saturday? But I can’t be. This industry is cosmically inept and too many of its practices are corrupt; there’s just no other word for it.

It’s enough to make me sick; I wish it were enough to make me stop.

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15 Responses

  1. Maximum Security couldn’t have switched to a more appropriate trainer. Bill Mott wouldn’t have made any sense; Baffert is the perfect fit.

    Between this nonsense and not even knowing what odds your horse is actually going to be – since you only saw the odds when he was being loaded into the gate, before the real betting even gets started – I wonder more and more why the industry has such contempt for the fan.

  2. Not sure what Maximum Security has to do with a piece on how alleged rule breakers are adjudicated.

    Now your second question makes all the sense in the world. My answer is damned if I know. It must be regardless, built it and they will bet…

  3. I was surfing the internet and stumbled onto this site, ( should I say “stumbled” on a racing site?:))
    It was like finding a long lost friend.
    John, I’ve been reading your columns and pics since my old man took me to Roosevelt Raceway when I was 16 and the worse thing that can happen happened…I won:) Turned me into a lifelong Railbird.
    Graduated to the flats soon after.
    Great Column!
    Since you are raging against the machine, I’d like to vent something on the eve of my favorite day of the year.
    Every year for at least 10 years I have purchasing the Daily Racing Form’s Saratoga meet PP plan. It came with several special features. It cost about $100.-$120.
    DRF is not offering a SPA plan this year.
    Instead they are offering a 20 or 60 card plan they are touting as a SPA special, even though you can use a card for any track, not just SPA.
    You don’t find out there is a 30 card plan until you chose a 20 card plan and a window pops up, up-selling the 30 card plan.
    It looks like they are forcing one to buy a 60 card plan or an extra 10 cards to have the PP’s for the entire 40 day meet.
    The 30 card plan costs $124. and it is short 10 cards.
    I think it is a sleazy thing to do.
    What say you?

    1. Dr. Rohan, I made the switch over to BRIS past performances the day after DRF put its most important content behind a paywall. And I think their PPs more comprehensive.

      DRF probably just trying to increase revenue so they can turn over the property again.

      I avoid commenting on track economic issues as a matter of policy, and feel the same way about content providers. Meanwhile, it’s strictly business

  4. WMC, you made me smile, the first upset of the day. And don’t think that what you’re insinuating didn’t jump to mind like 10 times while I was ranting. Injustice, even in this flawed game we play, puts my blood pressure in the red zone.

    So you’ve got me feeling blue, but in a good way…

  5. That’s all we’ve been saying, and have been saying it for years. Politics in this climate is impossible.

    For instance, I wonder what the Trump supporters in the industry thought they learned that 15 jockeys at Del Mar tested positive for Covid-19 this week, necessitating closure this weekend.

    That’s an alarming number, as this pandemic becomes less of a “hoax” with each passing day…

  6. JP,
    IMO, nothing except losing excessive amounts of time, money, and/or passion to the detriment of loved ones could make one’s involvement in racing a complete waste of time.

    In your case, you have enhanced the racing experience long-term for countess contemporaries whose enchantment with the game is more likely to continue in your presence than in your absence.

    This column is a perfect example of what you bring to the table that is hard to find elsewhere. Your voice is needed to call out the increasing injustice that permeates the game, and to keep things in perspective by reminding us of times when such outrages were infrequent if not invisible.

    COVID-19 is forcing racing to accept a measure of reality it cannot ignore. Is further reform possible? Only if influencers like yourself are able and willing to extend themselves in that direction.

    Please accept my gratitude for your efforts.

  7. I was raised to believe in our legal system and that everyone would be treated equally and fairly under the law. It appears that Mr Dutrow did not receive equal or fair adjudication under the law. I hope some where some one with the power and authority will seek justice for him. If it can happen to him who among us is safe?

    1. I, you’ll be whistling a different tune if I have anymore handicapping days like today’s! But, in earnest, I need to hear that, not for ego but just not to feel stupid about being a voice crying out in the wilderness, alas to no avail.

      But your encouragement, however, compels me to keep trying. A sincere thank you.

      Tony, well stated; there’s nothing more I can add. Who among us is safe, indeed?

  8. John, How can you draw Trump supporters into have anything to do with 15 jockeys testing positive? If Obama was still President, I do not believe you would have made this comparison. The jockeys moving from track to track is what is causing this to happen. It has nothing to do with Trump, but people like you like every opportunity to blast him.

    1. Drumpf won’t mandate mask wearing and social distancing on a federal level. His actions, with 140,000 dead Americans, are indefensible.

      Here’s what I’m willing to bet. I’ll go with the scientists and, as of this am, Dr. Osterholm, epidemiologist from University of Minnesota, said that without a reset, he’s sees the virus active for another year.

      The country needs to shut down completely. That would help fix the economy but this mentally unfit President is also too vain and too stupid to ignore his gut and trust the scientists instead. Then it’s all about the base, isn’t it.

      Out of this thread, but do appreciate your checking in with us Tim…

    2. Tim, you are 100% correct. I hope that you stay tuned to these threads and continue to speak your mind. That’s the only way to approach the political situation in this country, since the left has absolutely no solutions on how to handle the many urgent issues facing this country today and in the future.

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