Millions of people around the globe love horse racing, even millions more just flat out love horses. All involved would agree that taking care of the animals should be at an absolute premium. Yes, it is sport but at the end of the day proper medical care, training and overall health should rise above. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Sometimes it is the trainers, other times it is independent tracks running under the table like the current one in question outside Phoenix, Arizona. It all needs to stop.
I am sure I will receive backlash from people that love “their trainer.” I am sure I will hear about how they met him and he was a really nice guy or that he has a great family and loves everyone, or a myriad of other examples. Please understand this before going any farther; I am not speaking to any of that. I am sure that I will hear that I am uninformed or just ignorant to the life on the backside. That is okay, I am ready for it.
This is about the fact that they have “juiced” or doped a horse with the sole intention of helping them win. This shows love for the owner, workers, and themselves, it never shows love for the horse. I know that sometimes it is the assistants etc. that “do the deed” under the table. If it is under your purview, you face the penalties. That is how business works and horse racing is a business. If you have too many people to keep track of that stop the growth of your stable at a manageable level.
Some infractions are minor according to guidelines but why are there any infractions occurring at all? If everyone uses proper care, feeding and personnel then there should be no problem. If they can’t run without “help” then they should not be racing anymore. Just train the horse but make sure to always take care of the horse without hurting the horse. If you don’t then you deserve severe punishment. That punishment should not apply to the state; it should apply across the board. If you receive a suspension in New York then it should apply in California. If you are penalized in Kentucky then it should affect your operation in Arizona.
Look no further than Doug O’Neill, who is set to face suspension from November 3rd until December 18th 2014. His horse, Wind of Bosphorus, tested positive for Oxazepam after a win at Belmont Park in June of last year. Oxazepam is an anti-anxiety medication intended for humans and is classified as a Class 2 drug with harsh penalties for illegal use in horse racing.
The New York State Gaming Commission reached a closed door settlement with O’Neill that began, coincidently, the day after the Breeders’ Cup. If he was guilty then he should have not been afforded the opportunity to participate, in any fashion, at the Breeders’ Cup. That was where the California Horse Racing Board should have stepped up. Instead the Breeders’ Cup officials took control.
The Breeders’ Cup officials got it right by invoking the Convicted Trainer Rule. What does it stipulate? Here is a piece from the statement of Breeders’ Cup LTD president and CEO Craig Fravel.
“No person may participate as a trainer of a horse pre-entered or entered in a Breeders’ Cup World Championships race if that person, during the twelve months preceding the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, has been found by any racing regulatory agency, whether a governmental agency or a non-governmental regulatory body, to have violated a racing regulation prohibiting the possession or use of any substance listed under Class 1, carrying Category “A” or “B” penalties, or Class 2, carrying a Category “A” penalty, in the Association of Racing Commissioners International Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances or a racing regulation prohibiting the possession or use of steroids and the appeal periods for such finding shall have expired or all appeals, if any, will have received final disposition (a “Drug Conviction”).”
O’Neill will not be allowed to pre-enter horses in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup World Championships and as such, his name cannot be attached to any horse at Santa Anita during this year’s two-day event.
While NYRA did levy severe punishments including removing the ability of his horses to run under an assistant trainers name and the removal of any ability of his stable to use the grounds, this should be across the board. The California Horse Racing Board needs to step up their game.
O’Neill is based in California and has a track record of perceived preferential treatment in the state. A couple of years ago when the O’Neill trained I’ll Have Another, was chasing the Triple Crown he had a 45 day suspension started right after the Belmont was supposed to run.
Now part of that ruling included a stayed amount of 135 days unless he was suspended again in the next 18 months. Guess what, this is within 18 months and he is suspended again. The California Horse Racing Board should adhere to their rules and follow through with what their guidelines dictate. If they do what should occur then O’Neill will be forced give up his stalls, remove his equipment and get out. It will also keep his assistants from automatically receiving the stable. If you look at dates if every one of the suspensions are enforced then you end up with no Doug O’Neill at the 2015 Kentucky Derby or more damning to California Racing, no O’Neill at the San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby and others.
Will the California Horse Racing Board do what they should? I would bet that they will reach some settlement that allows some level of operation in the state for O’Neill or his trainers throughout the suspension.
It is sad that publicly, horse racing officials will talk about doing what is right for the horse but in reality is all about minimizing economic impact. Before you start in, I understand the economic impacts to the trainers, tracks, and workers if trainers with names like Doug O’Neill are not there with horse entering the starting gate.
While this latest situation is against O’Neill, we should not forget the other named trainers that have skirted the rules to either receive minimal suspensions, work settlements or be cleared of wrongdoing. Overall, in my opinion, you should not be able to look up how many 45-day, 60-day, or worse suspensions that a trainer received. You should find one. That is the one time they were suspended and if they violation occurs again then they should be removed from the sport for the betterment of the animals who’s care they are charged with. I am open to a “strike” system based on the level of severity but nomatter what is decided there should be an end game that includes a lifetime ban.
You can look up the history of many great trainers like Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, John Sadler, or many others to find multiple violations. Instead of punishments hurting them, the barns keep getting bigger and the money keeps rolling in. I could go on and on listing the multiple infractions that these trainers have or even discuss the bizarre passing of animals right after there careers end but that is all for another day and I think I made my point. I have no bias against any trainer, large or small, as this affects everyone and the punishments should be sweeping regardless of level of fame. Maybe if just one huge name was suspended for life than it could ripple through the youngsters coming up.
I know that no person is perfect but if caring for another living thing is part of your job you better to the right thing for them, every time. There has to be a better way and the state commissions should punish fairly across the board without favoritism, the horses deserve that. We might not get another “super horse” or “Triple Crown” winner this way but I am okay with that and I am sure the horses are as well.
It is time for change. It is time for people to step up and it is time for the officials of these organizations to come together and do what is right for the sport and for the animals that make this sport so great. I am not saying I have all the answers but I am saying let’s stop waiting for organizations like PETA to step up in order to do what’s right. I like horse racing and I love horses. I know I am not alone so let’s speak up and let’s make it right.