Updated on 09/17/2011 9:37PM

Drug cheats topic of expose


TUCSON, Ariz. - "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"

It's not us.

At least, not according to the English newspaper The Racing Post, which took a long look at United States racing recently in a four-part series and concluded that our horsemen were using chemistry at an alarming rate.

I happen to agree.

The series was written by Paul Haigh, and in typical English journalistic style, the headlines were big and bold.

It started with this quote, in very large type: "Only in racing do guys become superstars at the snap of a finger. It's chemicals and painkillers. Cheating works, and honesty is finishing a distant second."

The is not just Haigh's opinion. Much of his series consists of quotes he has attributed to American racing figures.

The one above was attributed to Richard Bomze, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, identified by Haigh as "a man of considerable means and with no particular axe to grind." There was considerably more to it. As quoted by Haigh, Bomze said, "I also learned in casual discussions what some of the cheaters are using to steal from their fellow trainers. The playing field isn't even. It stinks. Some of the vets and the drug enforcers know what's going on, but they can't prove it.

"The racing game is amazing. It's the only game in the world where a mediocre trainer, a run-of-the-mill guy with a 10 percent or lower win-rate, all of a sudden can't lose. He claims a loser by 20 lengths, moves it up in class and romps by ten. Come on, give me a break. You don't become a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Sammy Sosa or Wayne Gretzky overnight.

"Only in racing do guys become superstars at the snap of a finger. It ain't talent, baby. It's chemicals and painkillers, and we all know who the bums are. You don't have to be a Ph.D. to see what's going on, and it had better stop."

Haigh also quoted Ken Kush, whom he identified as not some failed trainer, not some crybaby loser, but a "leading financier and racing fan." He wrote that Kush said, "A hideous corruption of ethics has spread through the ranks of American trainers, reaching the very top. The attitude of many trainers is similar to the one that infected several leaders of corporate America - namely, cheating works, honesty finishes a distant second. The cheating takes the form of chemical warfare, and it is being waged at America's premier racetracks.

"The cheaters get only positive reinforcement for their actions: wins, trophies, status, adulation. It's clear racing needs purging like the one sweeping corporate America. The cheaters need to be exposed. . . .

"Some of racing's journalists need to spend less time writing fawning accolades to the cheaters and more time asking tough questions."

Haigh led off his series quoting - who else? - Jeff Mullins. He mentioned Mullins's thoughtless interview with Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, and quoted Mullins saying, "I train to win, and that's all I care about. It's not my problem if the general public is deceived. It never will be a level playing field. There are a lot of things people don't know, and won't know."

The second installment of the Haigh series was titled, "The vets' guide to winning." He wrote that while handicappers are starting to bet almost solely on trainers and not individual horses, "those with more sophisticated knowledge are betting on vets, not trainers."

Chapter 3 was called, " 'Could it happen in Britain' is the wrong question. The right one is 'is it happening yet?' " Haigh concludes that "the potential for abuse is frightening - and it would destroy public confidence," and then he returns to a quote by Ken Kush: "Silence is effectively complicity. Straight racing is the only sort worth preserving."

Haigh winds up his four-part series by quoting Andy Beyer, saying: "Drugs . . . have debased the wonderful game of handicapping.

"Drugs have made it as difficult to cheer for racing's champions as it is to root for Barry Bonds."

Haigh's own final words in this long and devastating series are worth noting: "It may be that in the end, no sport will be able to resist the effects of scientific knowledge when it comes to performance enhancement, that every sporting hero from now on will have to live with the fans asking, 'I wonder what he's on?'

"But we owe it to ourselves, and to Thoroughbreds everywhere, to give it a very good try."