While it may be true that the entire racing industry is trying to deal with integrity and drug issues, some are trying harder than others. Once again, the Indiana Horse Racing Commission is leading the way and, hopefully, leading by example. In its latest attempts to make Indiana racing as clean as possible, it has put in new regulations that will actually make trainer suspensions mean something. Good for them.
It was announced last week that any trainer who receives a drug-related suspension of 15 days or more will not be allowed to transfer the horses in his or her stable to a spouse, family member, assistant or any employee. In Indiana, horses from the stable of a suspended trainer either can't run during the course of the suspension or their owners will have to transfer them to a new trainer. That should make owners think twice about employing the latest miracle-working trainer whose horses somehow mysteriously improve a dozen lengths once coming under their care.
That will prevent the sort of situation that occurs in every other racing state when a trainer is suspended. They turn the horses over to an assistant and run the show by telephone, with the stable humming right along almost as if nothing has happened. It's a ridiculous situation that has made suspensions laughably weak and hardly any deterrent at all.
"From an integrity standpoint, a suspension should mean something; it should mean during the period a person is suspended that person is not participating in any way in the horse racing business," Indiana Horse Racing Commission executive director Joe Gorajec, said. "It's obvious that trainer suspensions have become, in some cases, meaningless because the trainer, especially if he's stabling off the grounds, may not have any change in his or her routine at all. In order to make these suspensions meaningful, I think a regulator needs to assure himself and the industry that a suspended person is actually out of the business during the time they are suspended."
The new regulations regarding trainer suspension is just the latest move on Indiana's part to ensure that racing in that state is as clean as possible. This is a commission that gets it. It understands that horse racing must do more to make sure that the playing field is a level one in which honest horsemen can compete and bettors can wager with confidence.
Indiana has moved toward stiffer penalties for drug positives, while improving backstretch security and enhancing its drug testing methods. That includes pre-race tests for milkshakes. Most importantly, though, is a recently adopted policy that prevents veterinarians from seeing a horse on the day it races. The only exceptions are cases when a horse is ill and when a horse is given a Lasix shot. Even in those cases, the vets are under observation by track security.
"Unfortunately, in horse racing, nothing is 100 percent honest," Gorajec said. "I think the Indiana Horse Racing Commission strives to make it as honest as possible and have the most level playing field. I am pleased with the progress we have made. Having said that, I'm not satisfied. I think we can do more and we will do more. I'd leave it to others to judge how we stand versus other racing jurisdictions, but I'm pleased with where we're at. We can, though do more and I have no doubt we will do more."
Indiana is hardly the center of the horse racing universe but Gorajec and his staff are doing important work. If nothing else, they are proving that racing commissions don't have to roll over and play dead and that getting tough isn't that hard a thing to do.
"Generally speaking, no racing commission, and that includes Indiana, is doing enough to protect the integrity of its racing product," Gorajec said. "Having said that, I think every racing commission should use all of the resources at its disposal to protect the integrity of their horse racing. I am hopeful that between all of the negative press the horse industry has received, combined with the efforts of a few states that are doing something rather unique and, hopefully, successful, that might capture the attention of other regulators and cause them to copy the commissions that are going above and beyond the norm."
The norm isn't good enough anymore. With Indiana having provided a blueprint, other commissions are running out of excuses for their propensity to sit back and do nothing. If Indiana can put some serious teeth into its suspensions, clamp down on wayward vets, test for milkshakes before races, etc., any state can. Indiana is leading. It's time for others to follow.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.