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Latest Meadowlands mess really comes down to one word

October 28, 2016

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What all sides need now is more consistency in their actions.

In the latest Jeff Gural vs. alleged cheating participant (in today’s HRU, see page 15 for a recap and see Dean Towers’ Brush and Crush column on page 4 for another take), the whole sorry mess really comes down to one word: consistency — or, more specifically, the lack of it.

First, if all the participants racing at Gural’s tracks consistently cooperated with his rules — like the vast majority of horsepeople do — we wouldn’t even be talking about this. Yes, it’s annoying and can be degrading, but if you’re not doing anything wrong it shouldn’t be a big deal. This is about something a lot bigger than the individual.

If racing commissions in all jurisdictions were more stringent and consistent in their rules — heck, even if they consistently enforced the rules they have now — Gural would not need to enforce his own.

If tracks, commissions and those that run the stakes races were consistently working with the same rules and applying them consistently, it would avoid a lot of confusion and be better for participants, investors and customers alike.

If Gural was more consistent in how and when he applied his exclusionary powers, it would defeat many of the arguments of those that oppose him.

If the industry were consistent in unifying to push for a higher standard to produce a cleaner, better product for its many investors, the game would be better off.

If, as in all successful sports businesses, the good of the game consistently trumped the rights of the individual, harness racing would be on a better path.

If participants consistently avoided looking the other way and did what they could to stop a minority of fellow participants from blatantly robbing them, those that play by the rules would win more often and more owners and customers would be willing to invest in the game.

If everyone could consistently look beyond Gural’s sometimes seemingly rash behavior, they might see the bigger picture of a man investing a fortune to try to give the customers a better product to the benefit of all. You might not like his bluster and his lack of consistency, but it’s easy to see he’s frequently on the right side of the integrity issue. The industry would definitely be much poorer without him. He deserves a lot of slack for his questionable style.

Finally, if Gural could consistently avoid having these major integrity battles on one of the biggest weeks of the year, the game would be better off. That’s not to say integrity should ever take a holiday, but it’s particularly cringe worthy when a floundering sport make headlines on the week of the Breeders Crown finals when this just as easily could have been addressed on the much-quieter week of the Crown eliminations. If you want to try to get someone scratched, how about doing it before the elims?

Finally, it would be nice if Gural applied some consistency to taking a sober second thought before acting. His brash style doesn’t win him many friends and it obscures his many positive acts and good intentions.

But, mostly, I find it troubling that those that line up to bash Gural miss his point and want him to be held to a higher standard and yet refuse to demand the same from the racing commission or track in their jurisdiction. That’s not only lazy thinking that’s lazy, period. The far too easy position to take is to throw up one’s hands and leave the racing commissions to sort it out, knowing full well commissions are normally: (a) under-funded, (b) stymied by bureaucracy, (c) not on the leading edge of testing protocols and (d) particularly nervous about litigation that taxpayers would have to pay to defend. That’s not a winning foursome when trying to combat those who have plenty to gain financially from cheating.

I understand that due to the gambling part, state and provincial regulation is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to circumvent with a one-size-fit-all set of rules and regulations. The states are not getting out of the game and that makes it difficult to follow other professional sports that have one set of rules and one commissioner. But if more people get serious about the issue and, especially in slots jurisdictions, voluntarily offer to increase funding for commission work on integrity matters — with equal funding from tracks and purses — it would provide incentive for commissions to improve, give the industry some leverage to suggest what universal rules and regulations it would like to see and provide much better optics for the sport’s investors.

On his own, Gural has done a terrific job of following through on a higher standard for both out-of-competition and post-race testing. The knock is that he doesn’t apply his rules consistently to everyone. He’s a busy guy. Perhaps he would benefit from hiring someone to keep on top of this and ensuring all rules are applied to all participants — regardless of reputation — and that banned participants are truly banned from the Meadowlands and not just from the entry box. If you’re not welcome at the Big M, that should apply to all areas. I’m not alone in seeing banned participants in the grandstand and it’s a bit troubling considering the money and energy Gural has invested to bar them from his plant.

That’s a minor complaint, of course, juxtaposed with having the best interests of the industry at heart.

Those that cry foul that an individual’s rights have been violated are missing the point. Racing horses is a licensed privilege, not a right. Due to that gambling part, integrity is critical and Gural is one of the few people with the money, energy and chutzpah to take it on.

His execution may sometimes be wobbly, his timing may not be great, but he’s dead on with his desire to clean up the game and improve the product.
On that point, he has been ultra-consistent all along.

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