How horse racing responds will dictate whether the industry survives or not.
by Dave Briggs
One would be forgiven for thinking Judgment Day was upon us.
In a week book-ended by setting the clocks forward and Friday the 13th— with some kind of killer Satan moon or whatever in the middle — the locusts have been set loose in the form of major doping indictments, COVID-19 hitting way too close to home for many of us, multiple racetrack closures, stock market and oil price plunges, travel bans and more nightmares.
I suspect horse racing will remember March 9-13, 2020 for an awfully long time just for the COVID-19 pandemic that claimed the life of well-liked horseman and horseman’s rep John Brennan, sickened others in the industry and closed multiple racetracks.
But, in the fullness of time, when COVID-19 and its accompanying hysteria subsides and life returns to some normalcy, I hope the horse racing industry remembers this week most for receiving the kick in the ass the game sorely needed in terms of the federal doping indictments handed down by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
As bad as the indictments make horse racing look — and do yourself a favor and read them all (full indictments here) — this needed to happen. One can only hope that if the allegations are proven in court that these people spend a lot of time in federal prison.
I am flabbergasted that I even have to write that horse killers and abusers need to be in jail and banished from owning or caring for an animal of any kind for the rest of their lives. I wouldn’t let these people own a hermit crab.
I am disgusted by the greed and the larceny alleged — with that larceny extending to bettors and participants that were fleeced.
I am fed up with the inaction of regulators.
I am troubled by people who continually say they “know” people are cheating, but do little to help stop an act that is killing the very game by which they make a living.
I am frustrated that culpable owners aren’t held accountable for the trainers they choose, for placing their horses in jeopardy and for placing their own greed above all else. Ignorance is no excuse when statistics and strong rumors abound. Choose wisely or get out.
I am apoplectic that vets that take the vets oath to, among other things, “promote animal health and welfare and prevent… animal suffering” would be involved in giving a horse anything that wasn’t deemed to be therapeutic. Any vet found guilty of administering or manufacturing performance enhancing drugs needs to go to jail and be forever stripped of their license.
I am furious that all this will be fuel for the fire of animal rights activists, politicians that look to raid horse racing’s funding and anyone that wants to shut the industry down. The last thing the industry needs is to give these people more ammunition.
I am saddened that the good, honest, hard-working participants that treat their horses better than they treat themselves — the people that make up the vast, vast majority of this magnificent game — will be tarnished by the greedy, selfish, cheating bastards that had the audacity to harm defenseless animals in an attempt to enrich themselves at the expense of all others.
But most of all, I am not surprised… This was inevitable.
I am not surprised, but, dare I say it, hopeful.
I am hopeful that this will finally — finally — be the incentive for the vast majority to do better and demand better from themselves and everyone else in the industry; to place animal welfare and integrity above cash and bragging rights and trophies and whatever else trumps doing the right thing.
I am hopeful the sight of people in handcuffs or orange jump suits will finally be enough disincentive for the remaining cheaters to get the hell out lest they face a similar fate.
I am hopeful other cheaters and abusers will go down before this is over. Certainly the records and wire taps must reveal other names.
I am hopeful that, without the ability to develop a test that stays ahead of the cheaters, that we’ve now found other tools to nail them to the wall. Hello wire taps and electronic records.
I am hopeful this will lead to more federal oversight of a game that has been crippled by the ineffectiveness and inaction of many state racing commissions. And, no, this does not mean I am advocating for the Integrity Act per se, but for the need for the feds to have an enhanced role overseeing all horse racing.
I am hopeful vets and owners — not just trainers — will be held to a higher standard and level of accountability.
I am hopeful this will finally lead to the much romanticized “level playing field” that has appeared, of late, about as often as Brigadoon.
Finally, I am hopeful that integrity and love of the horse and fair play and talent — all lovely concepts — will win out.
Let’s hope I’m not naïve or the industry is screwed.
Short of actual locusts arriving this week — and don’t count them out just yet — horse racing has finally had its long prophesied Judgment Day.
Now we will see if the industry rises from an apocalypse of its own making.