Monday, March 25, 2019

Money is Always the Answer

There has always been the stench of impropriety surrounding horse racing.  In the early 20th Century the practice of using drug cocktails containing such things as heroin or cocaine to enhance performance was common.  The standard seems to have been, "Just don't get caught."  While testing today is more sophisticated, there are those willing to buck the system.  Drugs can be used to enhance performance or to mask injuries allowing unfit horses to run without regard to consequences for the animal.  Rick Dutrow, who trained Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, was suspended several years ago for flagrant and ongoing violations, including improper drug use.  His attempts to overturn his suspension in the court system have failed.  Dutrow's circumstance is the exception rather than the rule however.

Harness racing has not been immune to controversy either.  In the United States, harness racing once rivaled baseball in popularity. The sport is thought to have originated with Assyrian kings more than 3500 years ago and ripened among the Greeks and Romans. By the fourth century, Rome's Circus Maximus, where harness racing took place, seated 200,000 citizens.

Roman harness racing was corporately sponsored, had professional officials; widespread betting; riots among fans and DOPING!

Corruption, immorality and inhumanity can be jarring things when we are exposed to them.  The following is a Facebook conversation that I was involved in recently, which graphically shows the lengths that some will go to in order to win.

First, a disclaimer.  I do not know the person who makes the claims here.  He, and it is a "he", would not allow me to interview him, refusing saying, "No, I am not interested in that at all."  And finally, he claims in writing to be a trainer/racer, but a check of his Facebook profile showed that he is a groom.  To protect him I have deleted his name.  I might add that his typing and spelling is iffy.

The track that I make reference to in the conversation is the old Lebanon Raceway, where my uncle, who is deceased, worked and was part owner of an unruly trotter named Speedy Trip, a gelding foaled in 1961.

Deweycheatumnhow 2007 Photo by Dean Hoffman

I don't care which trainer is which. Etc. The fact of the matter is we are dopping in this sport. I train and race standardbreds. It is hard to compete and make money when people dope for speed. I see it way to much
I enter a horse in a 5k race
use of the dope I get 2nd or 3rd. It's ok money but I or the owners can't live off it. What do you do? We have to do something ! I'm no expert. I'm just a half ass trainer trying to figure 
The best our for everyone"
  • Loren Schumacher Brendan, we had a harness track near me that was notorious for various improprieties, among them race fixing etc, I know that is true, because my uncle was an owner/trainer there.. I can't speak to any doping issues at that venue, but I do know that racing in all its forms is killing itself for the lack of uniform and enforceable rules relating to drug use etc. The public perception of racing is that it is: first, corrupt and second, inhumane. The half-assed approach that the Stronachs have taken at Santa Anita has done nothing to improve that image. Sadly, drug use has existed for a long, long time. The best book I have read on MOW speaks of rampant use of cocktails comprised of such things as heroine and cocaine and who knows what else. If you have substantive proof of drugging, you and other owner/trainers should turn the offenders over to the authorities. It would make your life uncomfortable, but in the end all of racing and the horses would be better for it. You and people like you are in a tough spot, trying to make a living in an expensive sport and doing what you love. I think that race fans would stand behind those who try to clean up the sport. While i sympathize with owner/trainers, like Joe Vargas, my concern is for the horse. Without them, there is no racing. None.
  • " it has gotten so bad that race secretaries, judges and the racing commison just say we are building a case which means they just turn there head. We had a case a few years ago where a standardbred w named killean cut kid I think. Was found in a kill pen and rescued. The horse had blisters thay festerd from inside out at his lower joints above the p1. A investigation happened they found that the previous owner had used snake venom in the joints which is a extreme form of a nerve blocker in the joints to reduce pain in a lame horse. The horse recoversd and is at a rescue he's only 6 or 7 years old. The trainers received a slap on the wrist. You can't do anything when know one will do anytjing and just look the other day."

  • Donato Hanover 2007 Photo by Dean Hoffman

As depraved as those who dope horses are, it is the stomach-turning cowardice of racing's governing bodies in dealing with the issues, which has severely damaged racing's image in the public view. Doping is just one of racing's many concerns.  Consider the increasing number of race and training related deaths, as well as the number of horses being found in kill pens and you easily see why attendance, handles, foal births and ownership are in decline.  

I don't want to close without acknowledging the strides made in equine aftercare.
Trainers and horse lovers are working together to provide new homes and new careers for horses whose racing days are over. There are numerous organizations, such as Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky, that provide forever homes for pensioned horses, whether they raced to glory at Churchill Downs, or labored in anonymity.  All are welcome.

Copyright March 25, 2019 by Loren Schumacher
All photos by Dean Hoffman i

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