09/08/2017 9:04AM

Bergman: Accepting the realities of Harness Racing

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Nikki Sherman
Pure Country won her first race of the year in the Lady Liberty at The Meadowlands on August 5.

There’s a clear difference between reality and fantasy.

Fantasy, at least when it comes to radically changing policy or the way things generally run, is easy to speak of because it can generalize an issue and attain popularity without so much as a hint of how to accomplish something.

What we’ve seen in this country over the last few months is perhaps not that far removed from a course many in this industry have taken in a fantastical and more fanatical way.

In reality, there are no defenders of those who illegally drug horses in this business.

While this may be true, it has also become “policy” if you will for those playing within the game to look the other way as opposed to directly at the issue otherwise suffer permanent blindness.

There is a sense that you have to fight for what you believe. Perhaps lost in that fight we’re having and the one spread out over the national political landscape, is that if all you do is fight, quite often nothing gets accomplished.

What is reality in this industry is that not all who play in the game are true horse lovers. Sure many indeed love the animal and would never want to see anything happen where a horse is mistreated. At the same time, there are many in this endeavor as a business with money invested and the expectation of success. Rules and the rule of law have been sidestepped throughout the history of mankind and it should come as no surprise to anyone that they are consistently trampled in our sport.

It is sometimes painful when two disparate causes collide on the racetrack such as they did on Hambletonian Day, when the struggling Pure Country finally got over the hump to capture her first race of 2017 (she won 20 times over the previous two years), the Lady Liberty for driver Mark MacDonald. That MacDonald was somehow fined for excessive whipping was a shock to me. What would have been a bigger shock is how those wagering on the horse may have felt had he not gotten the most from his mare and actually lost the race.

MacDonald’s drive looked incredibly similar to hundreds of thousands of races I have witnessed and in none of them did I believe the driver was doing anything unnecessary to attempt to win the race.

Mind you, this sport suffered for so many years with fans believing drivers were fixing races or “holding back” their horses I find it incredible that these fines somehow help put us in a better light.

It should not go unnoticed by those simply trying to put on a show that bans savagery from the view of patrons, what obviously goes on behind the scenes preparing horses for the races. Sometimes even the best of horses go out on the training track and just don’t want to go. The means that some trainers need to take to “coax” them along may shock the casual observer but just like the drug issue most horsemen simply turn the page.

It is one thing to fix a problem and it is an entirely different thing to create one. In the case of MacDonald’s drive in addition to his fine, some people expected more flesh than existed on his body for this alleged minor violation of the rules.

On a broader scale, it is impossible to correlate the interests of those wagering on the sport with those expecting the greatest protection for all animals. Racehorses are not like puppies. They need to be trained and prodded to do what we expect them to do. They are paid for and well taken care of in the truest sense. What they are not is pets.

The use of drugs in society is widespread. Its use within our industry is and always will be of concern. It is fantasy that all drug use can be obliterated simply by taking a hard line against some past offenders. No matter how harsh the penalties may be for such indiscretion, what we have seen over time suggests there is not and will never be a strong enough deterrent to stop all illegal drug use.

The reality of any business that masquerades as a sport is that when money changes hands all sides wish to look for any edge they can find whether accepted as legal or implied as illegal.

It’s hard to accept reality and that’s why I believe many turn to fantasy to help them feel better.

The use of drugs in our horses or the overuse of whips in our races, are issues that all have to be concerned about. What level of attention they receive and how open and public we wish to make them are choices that can work negatively against the entire sport’s reputation. That is today’s reality.

JAYWALKING: The surprise of heavy favorites going down in two Pennsylvania Sire Stakes finals at Harrah’s Philadelphia this past Sunday could be an indication of things to come or perhaps is just a statement of what that resurfaced racetrack has become this year. That both Agent Q and Huntsville were unable to get close to the pacesetters in their respective finals may have been more of a speed bias than anything to do with either’s particular form. Huntsville just couldn’t get much traction for Tim Tetrick as Filibuster Hanover and driver Matt Kakaley blitzed a third quarter in 26 1/5. Huntsville paced a sub 26 quarter on the backstretch but that was not good enough to have him reach the leader. Perhaps a bigger surprise was Boogie Shuffle winning in 1:48 2/5. Trainer Mark Harder seemed to be waiting indefinitely for the Well Said gelding to regain juvenile form and it finally happened on Sunday.

Agent Q didn’t have to travel as fast in the third quarter, but pacesetter Caviart Ally was able to keep her advantage through the final turn and upset the division leader who was thwarted racing without cover. Race winner Caviart Ally cut a 26 3/5 third quarter and that appeared to neutralize her 3-10 rival, who stalled and finished third.