Breaking Stride - 2018-01-21

The King and I

January 21, 2018

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A possible solution for tackling the beards.

by Trey Nosrac

Our neighbors on Redbud Street were a family named Tuttle. Five weeks after I popped out of my mother’s womb, Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle welcomed their first son. For some bizarre reason, they named him Kingston. Thus, beginning in junior high school, my boyhood pal was stuck with the nickname, King Tut. Adding to this farce, Tut grew to be short, fleshy and male-pattern baldness arrived with puberty. These circumstances may have contributed to his somewhat belligerent nature.

After college, Tut moved to New York City, happily married and had a son named Ricky (there would be no King Tut II). My pal made a pot of money trading in derivatives, gravitated to the cult of Fox News where he sees conspiracy theories around every corner, and lives a responsible life. In every instance, he is my polar opposite – except for our affliction with harness horse racing.

Even in harness racing, we remained opposites. He races out east, owns several horses, prefers aged pacers and races on a bigger stage. Despite our differences, we keep in touch with monthly phone calls, mostly about harness racing. Our conversation last night was a rant. I will remove the profanity in order to condense the report by approximately eighty per cent.

“I’m telling ya Trey, the end is near because the…

a rap sheet one place, a star in another…

107 dings on a record, oh never mind…

lawyers, money, intimidation…

more beards than a ZZ Top concert…

the takeout is so high you could bet after the race is finished and lose money…”

Usually, I can talk Tut off the ledge with political humor, trivia, or reminiscing about our days of Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe I am wrong, but this time Tut’s rant felt different, this time he seemed serious.

In Tut’s harness racing world, racehorses change hands frequently. He may appear to be a difficult owner, but he is a fair owner. He refuses to go to trainers who he believes are tainted. This has cost him money, how much is hard to say, but it rankles. He had a few horses he raced in Sires Stakes purchased by questionable connections that instantly improved. Those magic few seconds of improvement really irritate Tut.

Once again, we are opposites. We both love the game, but we live in alien worlds.

I race in the Midwest, one or two each year, and rarely in overnights. My competitors are for the most part familiar names, both owners and trainers. The only beards to my knowledge are Amish. With only three trainers in my 15 seasons, each worked hard, spoke plainly and took great care with their small stables of horses. These trainers had decades of experience and knowledge under their belts. A vet bill is a rare occurrence. They train using hay, oats and water with spotless records after thousands of tests. A horse getting a bad test result under their care never crosses my mind. Two of the three trainers are scuffling for horses to train. This does not seem right.

Tut’s world seems to be crumbling. The “beard thing” that can mask the “drug thing” understandably riles the King Tuts in the sport. Controlling who ultimately controls a racehorse beneath layers of deniability would appear to be a supremely frustrating task for regulators. Some of us have had relatives who live in our attic arrested for fencing stolen goods and never had a clue (rest easy Uncle Donnie; I will not use your name).

After our troubling phone call and thinking about Tut’s alarming racing report, I came up with an idea. Let me toss it out to you.

Instead of playing whack-a-shady-mole, what if we rewarded a band of solid foot soldiers. Let some struggling trainers that need work, good folks who do a completely honest job, get some extra work.

Let us suppose an owner sends a horse to a trainer who wins at a breathtakingly high percentage, but one day this owner is shocked, absolutely shocked and gob smacked to learn the horse gets a bad test result.

There is a new rule. In addition to punishment of the miscreant trainer, the violation also goes on the poor racehorse. The tainted horse receives a scarlet letter and banishment for a year. Do not hyperventilate and speed dial legal counsel muttering “freedom of choice” and “due process.”

In this forward thinking program, with a new plan and hopefully emboldened sheriffs, the shocked owner DOES have choices. The banished horse CAN continue to race. The sport would LOVE to keep you racing, sport will HELP to keep you and your horse racing, and the sport may well cut your expenses – under one condition; training of this horse must go to your choice of a “Approved & Licensed Probation Trainer.” This is a menu of folks who are squeaky clean, less expensive and will be happy to race your horse.

If you are lucky, a trainer like one of the trainers who have crossed my path will be on the list. You might not make as much money, but racing will be more fun, you will not need to worry about a shocking test result — and King Tut might hang around.

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