07/17/2009 12:17PM

Medication: RSVP/ Part 5


Let's continue the medication discussion but begin to focus on a few of the dominant themes from your first 400 reponses -- starting with the issue of punishment that's at the top of today's racing headlines.

CrimeAndPunishment27I think it's fair to say that almost all your comments about sanctioning trainers and owners for medication violations fell into just two categories: 1)Hang 'Em High and 2)Hang 'Em Higher. With no prompting, more than 100 of you raised the issue of penalties, saying they were wristslaps at best and a sham at worst. You called for longer sentences, including lifetime bans for second or third offenses; sanctions against owners and horses as well as trainers; and the transfer of horses to stables unconnected to the offending one instead of permitting an assistant to become the trainer of record during a suspension.

Whether or not these kinds of actions are entirely fair or reasonable, the mere fact that they were independently raised speaks volumes about the issue of public perception that is my primary assignment with the Round Table speech. But now that we have an immediate, living and breathing example in the news, it seems like a good time to consider how this approach might actually play out.

Steve Asmussen, last year's Eclipse Award winner and the trainer of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, was suspended for six months by the Lone Star Park stewards Thursday for a finding of a metabolite of lidocaine in a filly who won a maiden race for him in Texas 14 months ago. The suspension has been stayed pending an appeal to the Texas Racing Commission. Asmussen has vehemently denied that the horse was given lidocaine. His attorneys have argued that it is a clear case of environmental contamination and that the nature and quantity of the finding is inconsistent with the deliberate administration of a prohibited substance. The stewards refused to consider part of that argument because Texas has a "zero tolerance" policy on Class 2 substances including lidocaine, which they said made the source and size of the positive finding a moot point.

This case is likely to wind on for months, but for argument's sake let's say it stopped with the stewards' ruling Thursday and no further appeals were possible. The question now, especially to those of you who favor swift and severe justice in these matters, is what you think is appropriate action. Should Asmussen, who served a six-month suspension in 2006 for a mepivicaine positive, be banned for six months, or less, or more? Should all of his horses be forced to be turned over to outside trainers rather his assistants? Should all of the owners he trains for be sanctioned, and the hundreds of horses who have run under his name this year be barred from competition? Should Rachel Alexandra not be permitted to race again this year?

I'm not endorsing any of these possibilities, merely saying that some or all of them would be consistent with many of your recommendations. Now that we have an example in practice rather than theory, what should happen next?

Please continue the discussion in the comment section of this post. We went over the 100-comment limit on Part 4 this morning, so I've moved some recent comments -- made before this posting -- to this space as well.