by Brett Sturman
Two weeks ago, this column wrote about the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) taking steps towards driver integrity by adopting a stricter enforcement of rules that drivers adhere to (full story here).
Almost prophetically, two races were provided then as examples that perfectly set the stage for an immediate test as to how serious AGCO was following through in its initiative.
On March 8, driver Louis Roy was called in by judges to review his drive on the horse Beachin Lindy, as noted on that night’s AGCO Senior Judges report. This race came on the heels of a Feb. 9 drive in which Roy received a $300 fine for his drive on a different horse Bettim Jackie.
One week later, the AGCO report from March 15 noted, “Louis Philippe Roy was found to be in violation of AGCO rule 22.13- if the Judges believe that a horse has been driven in an unsatisfactory manner, not otherwise specified in these rules, they shall consider it a violation and furnish particulars thereof to the driver, prior to the instituting of any action therefore – 15 day driving suspension April 1st to April 15th (2nd offence)- SB51910.”
I spoke to AGCO senior judge Don Lawrence to see if the increased penalty was a result of AGCO’s stricter enforcement of rules and expectations, or if it was something else that went into the decision for the 15-day suspension.
“It would have been the same penalty and we still would have gone with a 15-day driving suspension,”
Lawrence said. “It’s not prescribed in the rules as far as an exact number of days or anything like that, but that still would have been called a year ago or five years ago.
“With Louis’ drive, that was one of the first times I’ve seen a 3-5 driven like that, so that’s the reason we stepped it up and because it was his second violation as you know, having the one earlier in February.”
While I appreciate Mr. Lawrence’s candor and applaud the penalty, I think we can all agree that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen (deservedly) prohibitive favorites driven in a blatantly unsatisfactory manner. In fact, I would argue that the drive on Beachin Lindy from Feb. 15 even before this entire incident should have warranted a review as well. These drives happen routinely and to some extent is accepted as a part of the game, but perhaps the suspension with Roy signals a change consistent with AGCO promoting driver integrity.
Lawrence couldn’t speak at this time to exactly what Roy communicated to the judges as his reason for the drive since he has appealed the suspension, but one could infer that whatever explanation was offered wasn’t sufficient.
“Honestly, the way we saw the drive that night, obviously we weren’t satisfied,” said Lawrence. “And then, the betting pattern of the race was investigated and that was why it took about a week to get Louis’ suspension out. We wanted to make sure the race was clear as far as the betting pattern goes (it was) and that we were just dealing with the drive and not anything else.”
This column has spoken favorably on Roy many times in the past and the point now isn’t to beat him up for this drive (although it certainly does warrant critical attention), but to point out an example of AGCO making good on its word to improve integrity. As such, even if the suspension wasn’t a direct result of AGCO’s recent paddock meetings with drivers and stricter enforcement of rules, it’s a positive for the industry nonetheless that officials aren’t afraid to call drivers out when they deserve to be. As a result, the racing product will improve.
In discussing other measures that officials have been taking to accomplish this, Lawrence said, “We’ve been fining for giving holes. The industry wanted us to crack down on the rules in place, so there were increases in the number of fines for giving holes, allowing a horse to needlessly pass up the inside. People wanted more cracking down on these types of things so we’ve been doing that and the drivers have been adapting well. It took us a few fines to get us to that point, but they seem to be doing a good job now.”
As for unsatisfactory drives, this type of undefined infraction always seems to be the most subjective but the one that catches the ire of bettors the most. Lawrence was assuring in that officials will continue to be aware and monitor how races should typically flow, particularly in the case where heavy favorites are involved.
“Absolutely we look for that. We’re here to look after the public, so we have the public’s best interest at heart and when we see a horse driven in an unsatisfactory manner we will act. Louis’ drive stands out obviously as one that we all got a lot of complaints about, but we keep an eye on all the horses, how guys are moving and things like that,” he said.
So far based on recent rulings, it appears that AGCO has every intention to make good on its word of more strictly enforcing the rules. Not just in terms of obvious and less impactful violations such as drivers talking on the track before a race, but in terms of how drivers may rethink a race if they know there will be follow up consequences.
As a postscript, Beachin Lindy raced one week later, March 15, following the drive by Roy that resulted in a 15-day suspension. In this race, with Roy aboard once again, the horse made two moves to the lead and crushed by over six lengths to win in 1:52:1 and offered much-improved odds this time, paying $7.60 to win.