06/25/2008 12:00AM

Emotions are taking over debates


PHILADELPHIA - Were you ever in a crowd where everybody was talking about something you did not understand? That is sort of how I feel about the current debates in horse racing.

Is anybody thinking clearly? Is anybody thinking at all?

Let's review.

Anabolic steroids have become a huge topic. Ask anybody on the backstretch that is really concerned about illegal, performance-enhancing drugs, and anabolic steroids will rank far down the list. Yet, because it is a big deal in baseball, it has become a big deal in horse racing. Why?

"Anabolic steroids don't cause catastrophic breakdowns," said former trainer Mark Reid, who now runs Walnut Green Farm in Chester County, Pa. "They are entirely missing the boat. They put a human spin on it."

From some of the hysterical reporting, you would think Big Brown is the only horse that has ever run with anabolic steroids. Studies indicate that 60 percent of horses race with anabolic steroids. It would be reasonable to assume that at least 60 percent of the horses running in Triple Crown races were on anabolic steroids. So, if that was the case, what exactly was Big Brown's edge?

Why isn't Congress or the industry debating corticosteroids?

Corticosteroids, Reid said, are "short-term fixes."

"When the joints blow up and become painful, instead of giving proper healing time, we have often taken the short-term approach, which is to inject them with corticosteroids," Reid said.

And that is a huge problem.

"The cortisone steroids are the ones that are injected into joints, which cause the body to quit producing steroids, which causes the breakdown," Reid said.

And isn't it the breakdowns that are supposed to be causing concern here?

Or is it just public relations?

Speaking of public relations: a six-month suspension for jockey Jeremy Rose for hitting his mount in the face with his whip near the finish line of the third race at Delaware Park on Monday?

Rose said it was an accident and it may very well have been exactly that.

Clearly, he deserved a suspension. But what is the precedent for six months?

Rick Dutrow gets 15 days for a clenbuterol positive. Rose gets six months for misuse of the whip.

Clearly, everything is now a reaction to the death of Eight Belles and the resulting public outcry. Congress holds hearings. Owners (some of whom employ trainers with multiple drug violations) decry all the illegal drugs. Officials try to explain the unexplainable. And everybody overreacts to everything.

"The length of the suspension really caught my attention," said attorney Alan Foreman, who is going to represent Rose. "Putting aside all that's going on right now, there have been a few incidents like this, and the penalties were not anywhere near what was given in this situation. It struck me when I heard about it as potentially an overreaction to what is going on with the animal rights people, the look at the whip and everything else.

"That's not to suggest that Jeremy isn't going to get penalized and should not be penalized. But six months was just beyond anything I've seen.''

Here is my suggestion. Everybody needs to take a deep breath. Try not to make emotional decisions.

Which brings us to the shoe.

I thought Big Brown's loose shoe was a topic right after the Belmont. I saw the new pictures, and they are interesting. But, like the rest of the theories, no cause and effect can be proven.

If the shoe was such a problem, how did Big Brown manage to keep up for seven furlongs?

It was the heat, the security barn, the shoe, the third race in five weeks, the missed training time, the quarter crack, the surface, or the racing gods. Or all of that in some combination.

The horse bolted. The horse broke poorly. The horse stumbled at the break.

I think everybody should take a close look at the Belmont Stakes past performances. Check out the charts for the day. Ask yourselves what the optimum strategy would have been, especially when one considers some of the factors affecting Big Brown coming into the race that likely would have had the unbeaten colt at something less than his best.

Big Brown had the rail. The colt was lone speed. The rail was live.

If this were the fifth race at Philadelphia Park on a Tuesday, every player would have understood what was at stake. And nobody would have been talking about all the rest of it if the rider had ridden the odds-on favorite in a way that took away every tactical advantage.

By the way, anybody seen Jose Santos's "cue ring" lately?