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Let's catch the racing crooks but don’t smear the good guys

Dec 16, 2008 4:59 PM
by Perry Lewis |

We’ve railed for months about the lack of even playing field among trainers since it has been obvious that some, often with the help of their veterinarians, have found the "juice" that gives them an edge.

So we commend the efforts of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in its attempt to weed out the miscreants by nabbing them before they can cash a bet or collect a purse.

However, they should temper their zeal before besmirching the reputations of horsemen who are playing by the rules.

Case in point: their recent efforts to corral users of EPO, the blood doping hormone, before their horses face the starting gate. Agents of the Commission reportedly swooped down on the barn area of a Kentucky harness track and took samples of horses trained by four leading horsemen.

They then indicated to the horsemen that the tests came back "positive" from a nearby laboratory. The accused then asked that they be given the opportunity of having the samples retested.

The four horsemen, identified in a number of industry publications, then sent the samples to the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory, a facility that is affiliated with the famed New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

They each paid $1,500 for the Pennsylvania tests that were introduced two years ago as racing’s first definitive EPO/DPO tests.

Last week, a lawyer for the horsemen brought forth the results of the Pennsylvania tests: negative.

He explained that the Pennsylvania lab had used liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry on the samples, which it reported had arrived in good condition with no visible evidence of tampering.

Adding to the problem created by the false positive report was the fact that one of the horses involved had been scratched from the $89,320 International Stallion Stakes. The loss of that opportunity could never be reclaimed.

We join in the remarks of one of the horse’s owners who applauded the track’s good intentions in adopting out-of-competition testing, but criticized the screening tests as "impugning the reputations of honorable people and causing unnecessary damage to owners of the horses."

The lack of integrity on the racetrack has been cited as one of the major causes of declining interest in both thoroughbred and harness racing.

At the recent 2008 Racing Symposium, sponsored by the Race Track Industry Program of the University of Arizona in Phoenix, a new effort was announced to improve both the integrity and the safety of the participants in the sport, an effort that is long overdue.

And keeping in mind the people who make racing possible – the racegoers who wager their money – a separate subject discussed at the Symposium dealt with wagering security.

Ever since the Breeders Cup altered Pick Six tickets debacle, the pari-mutuel industry has been searching for a more secure wagering system.

Pari-mutuel odds changing dramatically just before the finish or just after the finish of a race, has been a sore spot among horse players.

And all the monitoring of transactional activities won’t affect the core problem, in the opinion of Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.

His complaint focuses more on the ability of mutuel clerks to cancel wagers after the official betting time has closed. This ability is usually included in union contracts to prevent mutuel clerks from being stuck with a ticket issued in error.

All the monitoring possible won’t change the problem, said Scherf, as long as the "cancel delay" opportunity is permitted.