The three major Triple Crown prep races Saturday, April 4, will
feature enhanced security protocols, which on one level is good news, but also
serves as reminder of how much more is needed.
The New York Racing Association for the TwinSpires.com Wood
Memorial Stakes (gr. I), Keeneland for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I),
and Stronach Group for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) will have enhanced
security protocols in place. I like that the tracks are taking the initiative
for these races, rather than solely relying on state regulators; and I like
that these measures are designed to prevent cheating before it happens.NYRA has put policies in place
for all of its grade I, $1
million races this season, beginning with the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack. While
the NYRA policies vary a bit based on two categories, all of these races will
feature increased monitoring from security personnel in the hours or days
leading up to the race.
At Keeneland, horses competing in the Blue Grass are
required to be on the Keeneland grounds 54 hours in advance of the race.
Twenty-four-hour security for each entrant will start 54 hours out and will
continue until post time for the Blue Grass. Keeneland requires horses
participating in all other stakes during its spring meet to be on the grounds
four hours prior to post time. Each stakes entrant will be placed under
security watch at that time.
At Santa Anita, round-the-clock surveillance of the horses
entered in the Santa Anita Derby is scheduled to begin today (72 hours before
Track initiatives are needed because integrity is
paramount in a sport that generates its revenue through pari-mutuel
wagering. The customers have to trust the racing product. I think that trust
has eroded in recent years.
Regulators have responsibilities to ensure
integrity but that doesn’t preclude tracks from taking action as well; after all, trust in their racing product is on the line. Ideally, tracks and
regulators work together to ensure integrity.
The policies for Saturday’s races are attractive because
they are not reliant on post-race drug tests. Anyone familiar with the sport of
cycling and the Lance Armstrong saga should know the pitfalls of becoming
overly reliant on drug testing. According to multiple reports Armstrong and
many top cyclists of the era were doping, but their drug tests were coming
Front-end security also is important to bettors. A drug test
offers little protection for bettors because pari-mutuel results are not
changed to reflect disqualifications once a race is declared official. If a
horse is later disqualified for a failed drug test, bettors who were cheated
are not reimbursed based on the new order of finish.
Of course the problem with the policies in place for
Saturday’s big races, and other stakes this year, is that they do not go far
enough. These policies need to be put in place for every race. By just
putting these policies in place for stakes races, it’s acknowledging that there might be a problem but only addressing a small part of that problem. It comes off as the track
saying it’s willing to do what is necessary for its top races but not willing
to give the betting public and honest horsemen full protection for the majority
of races at the meet. That’s not good.
For better or worse, racing scandals at any level of the
sport foster negative perceptions of horse racing at every level. More effort has to be
made to ensure integrity for every race, not just the top events.
While there still is a place for drug testing, I think the
track measures being taken Saturday are more effective in improving
integrity. Top human athletes have shown that drug tests can be beat,
especially if the testers are not sure what they’re looking for. Since that is
the case, a bigger emphasis needs to be placed on taking away access from
potential cheaters through enhanced security protocols like the ones listed
above. Add security. Require horses to be on the grounds. Add cameras to barns. Add cameras to every stall.
I favor these front-end policies to the point that if new
money can’t be found to support them, I’d be in favor of cutting drug-testing
budgets to support these front-end policies. (Please don’t be the racetrack
executive who reads this column and decides to raise takeout to put these
policies in place.)
Keep in mind that security and cameras in barns would offer
horsemen protection as well. If a drug test that comes back positive for a prohibited substance is truly a mystery to the
trainer, the video could provide evidence as to what actually happened. Security
could readily produce a list of everyone who visited the barn in the hours
before the race. The list could be checked against video.
As these policies are put in place, hopefully they’d be
improved over time. If you take away the ability of a corrupt horseman to
cheat, you’re offering more protection than a possible disqualification and
sanctions some time down the line—sometimes way down the line—if a horse fails
a drug test.
Imagine how a couple of partners and myself felt after
playing a Pick 6 on the 2007 Travers Stakes (gr. I) card. We were live going
into the fifth leg of the sequence. One of the horses we had in that race was 22-1
longshot Executive Search, who sent us into loud cheers when he rallied to within a
half-length of the lead in mid-stretch. But as it turned out, a horse we didn’t
have named Starforaday, at 27-1, was moving even faster and rallied for the
We had the winner in the final race of the sequence for
five-of-six. The Pick 6 paid $13,708; the five-of-six consolation returned
$33.20. In the race we missed, Executive Search finished second; filling our
heads with ‘What if?’ scenarios and leaving our pockets empty other than consolation
But those feelings of kicking ourselves that every gambler
experiences would soon turn to kicking a sport we all love when Starforaday later
tested positive for clenbuterol and was disqualified to last place. His
owner-trainer Donna Wormser was suspended 30 days and fined $1,000. Of course none of those sanctions result in cheated bettors
getting money back.
I don’t recall myself or one of the betting partners saying,
“At least the Travers was run fairly.” Integrity is needed at every race class level.
Charts of Travers Stakes day, 2007.
Enhanced pre-race security for major races is a start. The
sport needs to make it standard for every race.