Thursday, 31 January 2019 18:15

Things Do Happen

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January 31, 2019

Things Do Happen

By: Jonathan Stettin


I always get a laugh when I see someone make what seems to be an outrageous or bold claim or accusation on social media regarding horse racing, and some expert talking head dismisses it as preposterous. If history has taught us anything, it is things do happen, and often the worst is true. At times the reality is even worse than what we imagine. Add money, lots of it, into the equation and you have a scenario where nothing alleged is really that preposterous at all.

Forgive the redundancy from previous articles, but if I were to ask you to believe that not that long ago people were betting pick 6’s after say four of the six races were run, and doing this on the Breeders’ Cup, you would probably have laughed at me. Can you imagine the expert industry talking heads response? I’d be dismissed as a crazy no doubt and put on the pay no mind list. They would be right about the crazy part, but I have never claimed sanity as a defense of anything. They would have been dead wrong about the pick 6 though, wouldn’t they?

Some years back a good jockey friend of mine, who I was with up at Saratoga, rode a horse in the last race who went off at 30-1. He went to the lead and by about two lengths and held that until deep stretch. At that point the favorite at 8-5 changed leads and kicked in. He was being ridden by one of the leading riders. He nailed the longshot on the wire. A nose separated them.

The next day was a Tuesday which was a dark day. The other rider came over to my friend who was barbecuing a steak on the grill. He said;
“Why didn’t you tell me that horse was live yesterday? I could have got in trouble, and we all make money.” It seemed like half a joke and was laughed off as such. It likely was.

Just last week a top Australian trainer who is a Melbourne Cup winner had their barn raided by law enforcement. The Melbourne Cup is one of the most famous and difficult races in the world to win. It has prestige on a par with a Kentucky Derby, and the same level of scrutiny. Darren Weir and two other “licensees” were taken into custody by the Victorian Police’s Sporting Intelligence Integrity Unit after four buzzers or batteries were found in the barn. A sporting intelligence integrity unit. Can you imagine if we had one of those in the states? Weir won the Melbourne Cup in 2015 with Prince of Penzance. Weir has two training locations, and both were raided. He was released and no charges have been filed yet. While the absolute rule may or may not apply to a licensee, in a criminal case possession would likely have to be established. Nevertheless, it would appear on the surface the batteries were present.

If you asked industry insiders if they thought a Melbourne Cup winning outfit was using batteries, I’d wager most would say no way. Maybe they are right, and maybe they are wrong, but the question is not ridiculous at all, is it?

I wonder how people in the industry would respond today if they had to live and work through the race fixing scandals of the ’70s. Pretty much the entire list of leading jockeys on the NYRA circuit was involved on one level or another even if it was just being subject to questioning. One rider, Mike Hole, committed suicide under what was considered questionable circumstances back then. Another rider was asked on the stand if he ever heard the expression “to hold or pull a horse?” He said simply, no, he never heard that and didn’t know what it meant. Con Errico in another scandal went to prison. In Europe, a top rider was actually put on trial for race fixing not long ago and was acquitted. Things happen. Questions are not crazy nor are those who ask them when money is at stake.

Most of us know how difficult it is to detect some of the illegal performance-enhancing substances in professional sports. Athletes get caught in major mainstream sports with at least some degree of regularity. Our game is not mainstream. Nor does it have mainstream resources. Does this mean every 40% trainer is using “something?” Probably not. It also means asking those tough questions is far from unwarranted. Having some skepticism in many cases is not foolish. Pretending it is preposterous or the thought of a crazy is, well is just plain crazy. Things happen.