Beware horse racing cheats:
your days may be numbered

Feb 13, 2007 4:10 AM

Horseracing in North America has undergone an evolution, if not a revolution, first with simulcasting and now with racinos and slots.

Despite challenges from edge seekers, good guys are much in evidence these days, men like Dr Rick Arthur and racing commission chairman Richard Shapiro in California; racing commission executive director John Blakney in Ontario; administrator of harness racing Hugh Gallagher in Delaware; and racing commission executive director Joe Gorajec in Indiana.

Unless you are a serious player, you are not likely to have heard too much of any of these men, or their work, but all five are laboring daily on your behalf.

If you happen to be a horseman cutting legal corners and looking for an edge, you know all five. They have been on your case day and night, making life miserable.

Shapiro, who has transformed the California Horse Racing Board from a passive group of pussycats into snarling tigers on the issue of integrity, knows racing inside and out, from childhood to his present perch running the regulatory show.

His father Marvin and grandfather L. K. both ran Western Harness Racing from the late 1940s through the 50s and 60s, and California’s famed runner Native Diver raced in their colors. It may surprise thoroughbred players today to learn that trotters and pacers once trod the hallowed dirt of both Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, but they did in those years, with class racing that attracted the best harness horses in the land before the advent of year-round racing in the east kept them from sallying west.

Chairman Shapiro dipped into that pool as a teenager, and trained and drove.

After The Terminator, aka Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, named him to the racing board a few years ago, Shapiro became determined to turn things around. California racing boards until that time were long on proud talk but short on stiff action. Shapiro had an inspired idea. He lured one of the state’s most successful veterinarians, Rick Arthur, from his long and lucrative private practice to the post of equine medical director of the board, and gave him broad powers.

Arthur has cracked down hard on offenders, and has assumed a major role in the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the group trying to install uniform racing rules across America. Young and dynamic, he has quickly become a respected leader in the horseracing industry.

John Blakney in Ontario has concentrated on making penalties for cheating on medication so stiff that the risk is not worth the reward. On at least four occasions the Ontario Racing Commission has suspended offenders for 10 years and fined them $100,000, and it is likely there will be more to come. That is a deterrent with a capital D.

Hugh Gallagher, in Delaware, has developed a draconian approach. His commission also has adopted decade-long penalties, not merely for the use of prohibited substances but for possession of them as well. He also has moved toward out-of-competition testing, a key element in successful control of illegal medication. Gallagher is bringing owners into the arc of penalties, and he is determined to eliminate EPO and other banned substances in the First State. It would be a first if he succeeds.

Joe Gorajec, with the strong support of the Indiana racing commission under chairwoman Sarah McNaught, has developed stiff rules on backstretch monitoring and other aspects of effective regulatory control that has gained respect, if not popularity, in the Hoosier state. Some horsemen think Gorajec too pioneering and rigid, but his policies are making it very tough on cheaters.