To most sports fans, and certainly to the Hoosiers who live there, the state of Indiana means basketball. Larry Bird still could be elected governor if he chose to run.
In the fall it means South Bend and the holy Fighting Irish.
Either way, Indiana is not thought of as the center of horse racing in the United States.
The state happens to have two racetracks, both relatively new and both compact and very well-designed for the realities of today’s horse racing with simulcasting. One is Hoosier Park, only 13 years old and until recently owned by Churchill Downs, and the other is Indiana Downs, built only five years ago. Both are dual-breed operations, offering both thoroughbred and harness racing, and both are fighting for their lives in the Senate of Indiana today, seeking slots to keep them solvent.
Indiana also has a rich horseracing history. The immortal pacer Dan Patch, America’s most celebrated sports hero of the first decade of the 1900s, was born in Indiana, and the hobbles, or straps that pacers wear to keep their legs in synchronization, were once known as Indiana pants.
For the purpose of this essay, Indiana also has Joe Gorajec, a no-nonsense racing administrator who is the executive director of the Indiana racing commission.
Gorajec is a graduate of the Race Track Industry Program of the University of Arizona, a school that turned out trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher for openers, and a host of racing officials scattered across the American racing landscape in responsible positions today.
Gorajec went directly from Tucson to Indianapolis after graduation, won the early and appreciative confidence of the Indiana Racing Commission, and as its guide and adviser for more than a dozen years he has exerted great influence on a commission wise enough to listen to his ideas.
Last year he introduced a program called Integrity ’06, which vaulted Indiana into a position of preeminence in racing regulation. Its provisions included a ban on the administration of anything to a horse entered to race for 24 hours prior to race time, and to make sure that was adhered to, it mandated that veterinarians had to be accompanied in their rounds by a security escort provided by the track.
Now, following up for 2007, Joe Gorajec has come up with an idea that could plug a hole in the cracked dike of public confidence in the integrity of racing.
He has introduced a rule in Indiana, and his commission has approved it, that has long been needed by racing in this country. The Association of Racing Commissioners International, meeting next month in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, should adopt and mandate the Indiana rule wherever horses race in this country.
It says simply that no horse trained by a trainer under suspension can be transferred to a spouse, member of the trainer’s immediate family, assistant trainer, employee, or household member of the trainer.
It might seem to the casual racegoer that this is so obviously needed that someone would have thought of it before.
Racing has overlooked it, however, and important racing states, including major ones like Illinois and New Jersey, have allowed the practice.
Allowing such transfers makes a mockery of justice and integrity.
In one major case in New Jersey last year, a trainer was suspended for months for an illegal medication violation.
His horses, owned by one of the sport’s major owners, continued racing under the guidance of the assistant trainer, rendering the suspension, for all practical purposes, null and void.
The same mockery of regulation took place with a major trainer in Illinois in the last year.
Joe Gorajec, in his "scenario" outlining the provisions of the new rule, says that without it transfers to assistant trainers or family or staff members "will likely not substantially impact the operations of the racing stable because the suspended person will retain the ability to ”˜call the shots’ in stable operations."
That’s understatement. More to the point is his contention that "the public perception of such a transfer is justifiable outrage. Those not outraged may have become resigned to a lack of faith in regulators to appropriately sanction individuals who violate both the letter and spirit of commission rules."
Regulators seldom talk like this, and it is refreshing to find one with both the guts and common sense to end the charade.
What Joe did not say, but is obvious, is that those outraged may simply quit the game. That’s a thought worthy of consideration by the commissioners meeting in the rarified air of Jackson Hole next month.