Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Opus of Problems in Three Parts, Part I : Drugs.

When I try to interest my non-fan friends in a day at the races the very first objection is that they believe that racing is fixed, that cheating is rampant. I tell them that while there will probably always be some amount of cheating going on I believe that the better tracks and the more high profile the race the less likely that there is any cheating going on. I explain why I think that's so; basically telling them that there is too much money in the horses and the breeding end of the business. And that successful commercial breeding is very much tied to a horses success on the track. A horse that does not accrue black type is not really worth anything. This is less so for the distaff runners but still applies. But at this point they usually have two retorts a) If they need to win to be valuable isn't that more a reason to cheat? and b) they point out, rightfully, that most horses don't run at the highest levels. So I am put in the position of defending the sport as best I can. I try to point out the folly of a jockey or trainer for risking an entire career for a race here and there. But, it's hard to clean up a negative image. They have all heard of the drug problems even if they have not heard of any specific example. This year they have all heard of Big Brown and the steroids. I am then amidst a conundrum. Do I defend the fact that steroids are (were) not illegal? - but this never feels right. Or, I can shrug my shoulders and acquiesce to their accusations and lose a chance to nurture another fan. Not all horses run on them and that has got to be a disadvantage. I have always felt as though it is cheating, legal though it may have been. So it's hard to convince them that the game is on the up and up; after all it's not based on this reason alone. To be certain I don't know that there is not a lot of cheating going on. In my time at the track I didn't see any cheating, and I truly don't think that it's rampant or even a big problem. I believe most horsemen and their employees properly and truly care for their horses. I also want to believe that this is true and I'm sure I fall into the category of seeing what I want to see, at least to some extent. But, obviously if someone is going to cheat they aren't going to make it obvious. Undoubtedly many trainers, usually the most successful ones, have been suspected of juicing their horses. I don't know if any of those suspicions have been true either. I imagine that at the B and C league tracks cheating is more likely to occur. After all there is little or no money in the horses at that level and the day money is probably lower, so I imagine the tote becomes all the more important for survival as a result - especially when the purses at those tracks are so much less than the big leagues. That is why I and so many fans are relieved and excited that new drug rules are going into effect across the county. Yes, the jurisdictions were coerced by the graded stakes and B.C. committees but it doesn't matter how it occurred just that it did. Like many of us I have lost money because a horse we felt had no chance, let alone a right to be in a certain race, suddenly ran a race like a champion. It is those times when I have had that sinking feeling about my own beliefs and desires. But with the new drug rules going into effect I'll feel much better about when encountering such a performance. I'll feel much better about looking through those rose colored glasses. NY is the latest jurisdiction to announce that they will be implementing the new drug rules. It was inevitable, we all knew that, but it's good to hear it anyway. And it will give me a little more ammunition in defence of a sport I am passionate about. Who knows maybe my arguments will hold a little more sway and prove to get a few more friends to the track. And even though this step will not erase all types of cheating I do know that it is a step that is years late in arriving.

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