Aqueduct January 30

Race 1      6-5-1

Race 2      9-8-1

Race 3      7-2-4

Race 4      7-2-5

Race 5      3-13-2-5

Race 6      7-2-6-4

Race 7      8-1-10-3

Race 8      3-9-10-4

Race 9      10-4-6-2

Race 10      9-8-2-1

Proactive Enforcement

The New York State Gaming Commission has adopted new rules aimed at repeat violators. Essentially, they adopted the same sort of point system other states use to target trainers with multiple violations. Each violation will accumulate points, with the humber of points per violation dependent on the severity of the offense.  Reaching certain point levels will result in suspension. For example, accumulating 3 1/2 to 5 points would result in a 30 day suspension, while 11 points would bag the offender a year off.

Nobody seems to have any serious opposition to this sort of rule, and I expect you won’t hear any until someone gets pinched for multiple violations of the same medication, much like what happened to Bill Brashears. ( In any case, if the rule snags offenders looking to gain an edge, it’s a good tool for the toolbox.

What may be more interesting are the proposed rules still under consideration.

This includes an idea to reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage incidents. The NYSGC wants to more specifically use episodes of epistaxis (bleeding from the nostrils) to restrict horses from racing. This includes mandating disclosure of such cases to future owners, and requiring endoscopic exams after such episodes. I’m not how the rule will work out in practice, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

The proposed rules also call for something I have advocated for a long time – requiring a log of all medications given to a horse, both by veterinarians (already required in NY) and trainers and their employees. According to an article in the Blood Horse,

“The package of proposed rules also include efforts to eliminate “the unnecessary administration of metabolism-modifying drugs,” [state equine medical director Scott} Palmer told the board, as well as new requirements involving drug prescription renewals, and the effort to ban the administration of drugs “in the absence of an actual medical disorder.”

That last part was targeted at trainer Steve Asmussen who was accused by PETA of unnecessary administration of the thyroid medication thyroxine.

While the medication log is an excellent step, I’ve suggested that for the strategy to be most effective it has to be accompanied by an audit requirement. One of the problems with enforcement is that most of the money and effort goes to post-race violations. By doing, say, monthly audits of the medication log, you have a real opportunity to catch a problem before it manifests in a race result, and this should be priority one. After a result has been declared official, the horseplayer is already screwed if one of the horses has a violation level. I don’t know what the exact division should be between pre-race and post-race testing and investigatory funding, but it currently is too heavily weighted toward getting offenders after the real damage is done.

Putting away bad guys may keep them from committing crimes, and that is one element of enforcement, but I will continue to push for the idea that tracks need to increase proactive efforts to find violators before the bettor is taken advantage of. They need to hire real investigators and not incompetent hacks ( I’ve outlined a series of proactive efforts in the article about Kirk Ziadie’s suspension ( and if tracks are serious about protecting bettors, they will start taking the proactive part of enforcement more seriously.

What everyone who works in enforcement knows is that a violation prevented is far better than catching someone after the fact. Make the bettors believe the races are being run fairly and you are on the road to helping the sport rebound, but if all we ever read about is suspending a Kirk Ziadie after 18 violations, racing may have won a battle, but unless it uses all the potential tools, it will never get the necessary public confidence or win the war.

Kirk Ziadie

Kirk Ziadie, to the surprise of almost no one, had an administrative law judge in Florida recommend that he be suspended for six years and fined $18,000 for a series of clenbuterol violations.

Clenbuterol is a legal therapeutic medication in Florida. It functions as a decongestant and bronchodilator, and can have anabolic (muscle growth promoting) effects. Clenbuterol has long been a controversial medication in horseracing. It’s even been banned in some places (New  Mexico).

Ziadie was cited for multiple violations, and in his defense he pleaded stubborn.

In 2013 horsemen were told by Florida to increase their withdrawal time for clenbuterol from five days to 14. Despite the “advice” Ziadie continued to run his horses five days after he gave them clenbuterol, and subsequently had six positives.

In testimony, Ziadie said he chose not to change to the new, longer withdrawal time.

Ziadie said to the law judge, “I was still stuck on the five days, your honor. I was stubborn. I know I did wrong. I know that there was a rumor and I know there was a brochure going around—14 days—but I was trying to do the best for my horses. I thought that if was the medication that they needed at the time when we were racing and I take blame for being stubborn and making a mistake, but I did keep it at five days.”

Ziadie made an effort to get the samples thrown out, and succeeded for the blood samples. But the urine samples stayed in and revealed 18 violations. Ziadie was pretty much up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

I’m not seeing any way he wiggles out of this one. He called it stubborn, it just as easily could have been called arrogant, putting his head in the sand or something more nefarious. His statement showed that he really didn’t measure his actions with the same sense of gravity that the administrative judge noted. In his decision, the administrative judge said that while clenbuterol has some therapeutic value, its adverse effects and excessive use present a danger to racing thoroughbreds.

You can’t have it both ways. It’s either a useful therapeutic or a dangerous drug. The administrative judge can believe whatever he wants, but as long as the drug was legal, limit the commentary to the relevant facts of the case. As for racing, make up your mind about whether clenbuterol should be legal, let trainers know, and let’s move on.

Where I want to zero in is with the responsibilities of track management and enforcing authorities. Ziadie made the decision to engage in wrongful behavior, but all of Ziadie’s violations were as a result of post-race testing and not anything proactive.

Ziadie was ultimately charged with 18 violations. You can see Ziadie as a serial cheater – you don’t commit 18 violations and claim it was totally unintended – but how does the violation count get to 18 before someone takes action?

At the end of the day, a violation that never occurs is infinitely better than having to take an enforcement action after the fact. Racetracks can do so much more to prevent violations than they are currently doing. Let’s start with the obvious.

Closed circuit cameras should be mandatory on the backside. Not every track has them, and even when they are available the storage times are not always long enough to ensure a violation can be matched with a video record. It does no good to recycle tapes every 15 days if it takes 30 days to notify a trainer of a violation. Regardless of trainer responsibility rules, if a trainer has video evidence that a horse was tampered with, that should form an affirmative defense if a violation is measured.

The stewards should be conducting regular, unannounced inspections. You cannot convince me that authorities are totally in the dark about what goes on in the stable area. When A.C. Avila was investigated for an acepromazine violation for the horse Masochistic, investigators found a plastic bin full of medications/drugs, many of which were unmarked. They may have never found the bin without the prompting of Masochistic’s violation. That sort of thing needs to be cleaned up before it gets out of hand, and regular, unannounced inspections would go a long way to help trainers pay closer attention.

The authorities need to have trained, professional investigators available. Many of the cases I’ve looked at had poorly trained and barely competent investigators. While some may argue the burden of proof after a positive test rests with the trainer, I believe the track owes it to the betting public and other trainers to get to the bottom of some cases, especially cases where there was no way the trainer could have administered the offending substance. You will never fully gain the public trust when you leave too many questions unanswered or you fail to punish the right people.

Random drug testing should be mandatory for workers on the backside. Given the number of potential cases of environmental cross-contamination that occur, the authorities need to know potential sources of the contamination. And obviously tracks should help establish and fund support groups for those with drug problems.

Pre-race testing programs should be established, especially for trainers who have had previous positives. As I said, a violation prevented is infinitely more valuable than a post-race positive.

All medications/drugs should come from a single track pharmacy, and veterinarians should be required to keep detailed records on medications purchased and used, and there should be regular audits on those records. This is really the most important thing tracks could do. When people ask how we can be more like Hong Kong, an obvious answer is that we can make sure every regulated compound given by a veterinarian to a horse is catalogued, the records are kept permanently, and the track has unlimited access to the records. If Florida had Kirk Ziadies’s records and had seen that he was dosing horses with Clenbuterol five days before a race, they could have intervened before things got so far out of hand. Or maybe Ziadie would have never been “stubborn” had he known he was on record. What happened to the administering veterinarian in all this? Did he not know about the new clenbuterol advice? Did he tell Ziadie? Did he refuse to administer clenbuterol because he knew it would likely result in positive post-race tests? And if the vet (or Ziadie) was required to buy from a single source and the amounts being bought were documented, wouldn’t the racing officials have the necessary heads-up to investigate? And any horse that shows up with a drug/medication that is not in the official log could earn the trainer additional penalties. Veterinarians could also be subject to penalties for not properly logging medications.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about it in that way, but the fact that tracks are not as proactive as they could be means the number of violations is higher than it has to be. For those who are indignant about drugs in racing and rail about trainers, there are more solutions than just waiting for the trainer to come up with a positive post-race test. For all the people who “knew” Kirk Ziadie must have been doing something to gain an edge, did you also call for the track to do more than just wait for Ziadie to get caught?

If you believe drugs in racing are a scourge, why would you not favor stopping as many violations as possible before they happen by using technology, proactive intervention, and tighter control over how horses are being medicated? The trainer may get the ultimate blame for a medication violation, but track management and the enforcing authorities are not without opportunities to keep at least some violations from ever becoming news. Let’s hold them all to a higher standard.

Aqueduct January 10

Very tough day. The late P4 sequence has 50 horses entered, and the races are competitive.

Race 1      2-4-3

Storm Cell broke well back first time but may have things his own way today.

Race 2      3-2-1

Race 3      4-6-1

Perhaps Stroke Play doesn’t have a good chance at winning, but the other four all have legitimate shots. Mei Ling and Wonder Gal should both be competing up front and both have matriculated with better. Sustainable may be the value horse. Saythreehailmary’s has to be given consideration on a Sunday.

Race 4      3-6-1

It looks like the have and have nots in this race. Despite not beating a stellar field last out, Uncle Duncan looks like the lone speed and should be tough here.

Race 5      5-1-4-7

Cards of Stone smashed a state-bred maiden field first time out in a good time. He should be the front speed. Charming Indy did well at this level last out and should be rolling again.

Race 6      2-5-10

A little bit of speculation here. Flatterywillgetyou is the best of the horses that have started. Votre Coeur is the Chad Brown entrant and he is always dangerous with firsters. I love the six furlong breeding on Chocolate Smoothie. She also has the workout pattern I like.

Race 7      7-4-9

Lots of possible winners here. American Progress goes first time for Linda Rice and she has been hot at this meet and she’s one of the potential overlays. Gentrify lost to a good field last out and drops to his lowest level. Wild target is 4 for 4 in the money on the inner and goes first time for Canizzo. If you’re going deep in the P4, Star of New York, Songa, Visionary Ruler and Wild Target are all possible.

Race 8      1-6-4

Another race with multiple possibilities. Jack O Liam is the obvious front runner, although the race has plenty of speed. I’m intrigued by the 10-1 ML. Special Ops is another 10-1 shot that looks pretty good. Notice his start on the inner this spring resulted in a convincing win. Clement is 25% off the long layoff. Wild Zambezi, Lunar Rover, Sioux, and Drama King would not be a surprise.

Race 9      4-8-3

Random Thoughts

Not much going on in the racing front, so just to stay in practice a few other things I’ve heard.

A policeman in Georgia shot a naked black man while he was acting deranged. According to the story,

Police were responding to a call about a suspicious person. Bystander videos and photos show Hill was naked, climbing on the sides of his apartment building prior to the shooting. Police have said that Hill then charged at Olsen, who shot and killed him. “The caller reported a male acting deranged, knocking on doors, crawling around on the ground naked,” DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander said at the time of the shooting. “When the male saw the officer he charged, running at the officer. The officer told him to stop while stepping back at which point he drew his weapon and fired two shots.”

I don’t know about you, but the first things going through my head when I see a naked guy trying to climb an apartment building are (1)PCP or (2)mentally ill. Now that isn’t to say he couldn’t be dangerous, but I’ve watched Locked Up and there is apparently a way to handle someone who flips out without shooting them, as long as you have numbers, the right equipment, and  are trained. That is especially the case when that person doesn’t have a weapon.

What could have been going through the officer’s mind to think this guy was going to stop when he shouted at him? I think if you showed a video, stopped it at the point the naked guy started charging and the police officer yelled stop, and then took a poll of 100 people, I’m not sure there is one who would have taken 1000-1 the guy was going to stop. The guy was apparently having some sort of psychotic episode, and the idea that he would suddenly come to his senses when a police officer yelled stop is at best ludicrous. So the question is, was there any other option available other than shooting the guy? Was the man an immediate danger to other people? Could the officer have waited for numbers before confronting the man? Did he have the time or the ability to use something less than deadly force, the Taser or a night stick for example?  I honestly don’t know the answers, but based on some other recent cases, the presence of a threat that may inflict bodily harm and the fact that training often makes the response autonomic, usually seems to be enough to decide in the police officer’s favor.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I mean, the officer should not be subject to physical assault but this sort of thing has to happen often enough that the police should at least have a Plan B for how to get out of the situation with minimal damage to the officer and the naked guy. I’m not taking sides. If anything I’m blaming inadequate training for dealing with the mentally ill, an issue that has been the subject of discussion in many communities. I’m reminded of what Clint Eastwood said as William Muny in Unforgiven:

It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he’s got and everything he’s ever gonna have.

The second thing is the weather in California. The weather gods seem to have it in for the most populous state. Drought followed by torrential rain. I was listening to the radio and someone was talking about the problems caused by the heavy downpours. One of the problems is the homeless, who apparently prefer to live near the water, which in SoCal is concrete riverbeds or the beach. Riverbeds are a bad idea when water is rushing, mainly because if you happen to be in the channel you might drown. So California is looking at ways of dealing with the homeless during the wet weather.

There was a point in the story where I thought the person being interviewed said that homeless people have rights. This is the sort of thing that makes Fox News heads explode. I think what she meant was, hey, if you want to be homeless, go ahead. We can’t stop you. In other words, everyone has a right to be homeless. Not, that goddamn Obama just changed the Constitution to give special rights to the homeless. I just thought it would have been a great debate topic for Sean Hannity versus Rachel Maddow. The rights of the homeless.

The third thing was a doozy. A Florida Atlantic University professor named James Tracy who apparently believes the Sandy Hook shooting was staged and who publicly quarreled with the parents of one of the victims, was fired for not filling out some forms on outside employment required by the University. The strangest thing isn’t that he thought the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, but that he wanted us to believe an inept and cynical government could actually pull it off. Pretty ironic, eh? Apparently, the government hired actors to play victims, replete with fake blood and other special effects. The eventual outcome was supposed to be gun control legislation, which as we all know didn’t happen. So, the government has had to regularly stage fake shootings, like San Bernardino, in an effort to get that gun control bill passed.

This proves my theory that some people have far more education than brains.

I’m not sure what the percentage is of people who believe this, but the fact that anyone thinks it’s true is…well frankly the naked guy climbing the apartment walls may have been of sounder mind.

What may have been more outrageous was Tracy going after the parents of one of the boys killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. He used a photo of Noah Pozner on his blog, which got the attention of Noah’s parents. The Sun-Sentinel described it this way.

When the parents took steps to prevent their son’s photo from being used on conspiracy websites, Tracy sent them a certified letter demanding proof they were Noah’s parents and that their son ever lived, the family wrote in a Sun Sentinel opinion piece. Tracy fired back online, calling the Pozners “alleged parents” and accusing them of cashing in on Sandy Hook and fabricating their son’s death certificate. “If Noah actually died, there would have been no reason to fake it.” Tracy wrote.

The incredible cruelty of that act is without peer. No parent should live to see the death of their children, much less in a senseless way, and make no mistake about it. Noah Pozner’s death was real as is the pain of his parents and every parent who lost a child at Sandy Hook. I can feel no kindness toward James Tracy. The fact that this is America allows him to get away with believing whatever insane thing he wants with impunity, and he can even tell the rest of us what he thinks as long as it isn’t seditionist or the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater. But there is always a cost to extreme speech. It is villification by those who have seen the true horror of the violence that occurred in Boston, and Newtown and San Bernardino and who will not give credence to any who are outwardly cruel and purposely ignorant. If James Tracy had the sense of a two year old he would have kept his rantings to the small group of wing nuts who find life in reality not satisfying enough.

The truth is not optional. His opinion counts for absolutely zero in this country. He is as irrelevant as someone who would argue that the earth is flat. He is, to state the obvious, as wrong as wrong can be.

Tracy is especially sad because he was educated enough to know better. His delusion is inexcusable. This is what we all should hope. That he fades into the obscurity he deserves and that we honor and remember the lives of all who died at the hands of madmen.