05/26/2012 10:29AM

Lou Pena guilty?


In case you have been in a remote part of the world, trainer Lou Pena was hit with 1,719 violations by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board on Thursday, May 24.

It was certainly no surprise to those in the harness community that Pena could have been doing something underhanded. Trainers with large stables don’t often win around 30 percent of their races with hay and oats alone. However, it is worth noting that the report by the NYSRWB seemed to accuse Pena of administering legal drugs at improper times. They did not cite any failed drug tests by his horses. So, like Al Capone who was sent to jail on tax evasion charges rather than for the “serious” crimes he committed, the Wagering Board found a go-around to prosecute Pena because they couldn’t catch him doing what many people alleged.

Pena has been quoted as saying the Board came after him because he was winning too many races, and he is right. Just like when Barry Bonds hits 70-something home runs. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, it might just be a duck.

I have to admit that I was always on Pena’s side as others accused him of wrongdoing. I can’t persecute someone without some evidence. Although, I even flat-out told Pena on the phone months ago that I had my doubts about whether his actions were on the up and up. He agreed that looking at the statistics his record looked fishy.

The evidence in this case is somewhat strange in that Pena is accused of administering substances too close to race time, yet he never had a positive test. So, either the testing procedures are poor or the acceptable levels of medication need adjustment.

One thing not mentioned in any reports is the role of the veterinarian in the case. If a vet was supplying Pena with medication or was administering the medication at improper times, shouldn’t that vet be in as much trouble as Pena? Do we know for sure that the records were correct and not fabricated?

For what it is worth, I spoke to a trainer who said most horsemen were quietly happy about the Pena findings. He said that while the majority of horsemen were not wishing bad things for Pena, his cocky attitude did not sit well with his fellow trainers. He also said that there is no way that Pena was able to achieve his level of success without using something more than he was accused of in the NYSRWB report.

From a bettor’s point of view, I honestly do not see the issue some people had with Pena. Doing illegal things is clearly bad for the game, but at least you mostly knew where you stood with Pena. The majority of the time you were going to get a live horse at a short price. He did exceptionally well with horses that were new to his barn and had a bit of class to them. Whatever his methods were, Pena was able to get a peak performance out of many horses on a consistent basis.  I bet on and against many Pena horses and I have no regrets or complaints.

Another good question about the Pena situation is why him? I counted 11 other trainers on the Friday card (May 25) at Yonkers Raceway who were winning over 20 percent of their races at Yonkers. Have all of those trainers been investigated as well? I’m not saying any of them are doing something illegal, but it seems unlikely that Pena could be the only trainer playing outside the law.

Then there is the issue of what’s next. What happens to the horses under Pena’s care? Will they move along to the Gilbert Garcia-Herrera and Jennifer Sabot barns like many of Pena’s horses did when he was banned from Yonkers in 2011? If Pena is exiled, isn’t it likely that some new guy will come along and take his place? I’m all for getting rid of the trainers that are doing illegal things, but let’s not pick and choose who has to go. Let’s weed out all of the bad seeds.

If you are guilty, Lou, shame on you for stealing money from other owners and trainers who put in an honest day’s work in hopes of making a decent living. I will keep an open mind until you are convicted.

Hopefully for Pena his attorney is as adept with the law as he was with his horses.