December 19 marks the day Doug O’Neill’s suspension is finished and he’ll be back training his string. Welcome back, Doug. Racing is better with you participating.
Doug O’Neill would be the first to tell you that he’s made some mistakes, but I believe he’s worked as hard as any trainer to run a clean operation. I’ve talked extensively with Doug, with some of his owners, and the people who work with him. I haven’t found one who believes in anything less than running a totally clean operation. Doug even signed the petition to the CHRB asking for the installation of security cameras on the backstretch. That doesn’t sound like a guy with something to hide.
The current suspension was related to in incident in New York involving a positive test for Oxazepam on the horse Wind of Bosphorus. I won’t go into detail – you can read about the case in one of my earlier blogs – but the whole thing really underscored some of the problems with racing rules, especially the absolute insurers rule. We still don’t know how the Oxazepam got into the horse’s system, and ironically the one guy who wants to know the most is Doug O’Neill.
Before I launch into the rest of the blog, let me ask you to remember this. I firmly believe that a trainer who knowingly cheats in an effort to gain an advantage is reprehensible and should be dealt with harshly. I am not nor will I ever defend any dishonest trainer or jockey.
Twitter has been buzzing with opinions on trainers, and these days David Jacobson seems to be the most common target. He fits a lot of the criteria for garnering suspicion. He’s successful, seems to improve horses dramatically after a claim, and often races them hard until he drops them to a level low enough to induce another trainer to take them off his hands. The one thing Jacobson hasn’t done is have a horse test positive for seven years, despite being scrutinized microscopically by NYRA.
The list goes on. Bob Baffert had 7-11 horses expire suddenly, and although the CHRB could find no explanation that would put the blame on Baffert, the cloud still hangs over his head. Dick Dutrow is gone for ten years. Tom Amoss, one of the cleanest guys in racing, has had to spend a substantial sum fighting a positive in Indiana. When a trainer can’t comply with the rules when he tries as hard as as humanly possible to keep a horse honestly healthy and clean, you have to wonder if the issue is something other than the trainers.
It’s a common story in racing. Once a trainer is labelled as one who will use chemical means to get an edge, the stain is pretty much indelible. Once a trainer enjoys what some will label unnatural success, the cloud is inevitable. Just as Doug O’Neill and David Jacobson.
I’ve been looking at this issue for quite a while now. I’m far more convinced that the absolute insurers rule needs an update and it is not due process to have one body be judge, jury, appeals court and executioner. I’m convinced that racing commissions are no different than other rulemaking bodies, finding more and more ways for trainers to become lawbreakers, setting standards that may or may not get to the heart of racing’s real problems. I’m convinced that people like Dr. Rick Arthur, Joe Gorajec, and Chris Kay have become engorged with the power they’ve cultivated over the years, becoming almost imperial under the cloak of protecting racing from everyone but themselves.
In a highly publicized 1987 case, former labor secretary Ray Donovan was indicted and tried in New York for larceny and fraud in connection with a project to construct a new line for the New York City Subway. He was ultimately acquited and famously asked, “Now where do I go to get my reputation back?”
More than a few trainers are wondering the same thing.