05/30/2012 2:08PM

Paranoid Belmont


The security measures that Belmont Stakes entrants will be subject to starting next Wednesday, announced today (Wednesday), seem unnecessarily heavy handed. In fact, they seem about as unnecessarily heavy handed as last week’s stewards decision to not allow the use of equine nasal strips was unnecessarily arbitrary.

Among the “high points” of Wednesday’s announced security measures, all Belmont Stakes entrants will be housed in a secured, guarded barn that, and I like this part the best, will be known as “a stakes barn.” People who actually do have business moving in and out of a Belmont horse’s stall must first be logged in with actual, specific reason for entering the stall recorded, and then logged out as exiting the stall, and will be subject to search. And among the restrictions on the veterinarians of Belmont horses beyond limited access and constant escort is, they cannot treat a horse next Friday or Saturday without first making an appointment with state racing board investigators. Heavy handed seems about right.

As for the nasal strip matter, among the reasons given for not allowing I’ll Have Another to wear the nasal strip he wore when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were difficulties in regulating nasal strips in general, and the lack to this point in time of a big demand for them. That sure sounds pretty arbitrary and capricious, especially since you’re okay to use equine nasal strips in New York if you race a harness horse. I mean, what we are talking about here probably has a tiny fraction of the impact on a horse’s performance as does a change in bits. But there is no regulation of those.

Like everyone else, I’m all for boosting security and kicking the cheaters out of the game because, without the confidence of the betting public, there is no game. But it’s impossible not to think the obvious here: That these extreme measures are directed specifically toward I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, presumably because of his imperfect record. And it’s hard not to think that if O’Neill wasn’t involved in this Belmont in the manner that he is, these measures wouldn’t be nearly as extreme, if invoked at all.

As a racing fan and bettor, what I find especially ridiculous about all of this is, without taking it all the way up to DEFCON 1, this Belmont Stakes was going to be the cleanest race in New York this year, anyway. Really, outside of the movies, what thief would try to steal when everyone in the world is watching? It’s all the other races, the non-Belmonts, the cheaper races that attract less attention and scrutiny, and thus might crack the door open to wrongdoing, that need the higher level of security. But of course, cheap races don’t get Belmont Stakes-level security because it costs too much. And that is why this all smacks of grandstanding.