05/28/2012 10:50AM

Jay Bergman: Other trainers may be guilty of same infractions as Pena

Derick Giwner
Trainer Lou Pena has said the allegations against him are racially motivated.

Be careful what you wish for.

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board, with help from the New Jersey Racing Commission broadcast the results of its investigation into leading trainer Lou Pena late last week and quickly gained the headlines.

Those who have been watching the standardbred game have long been suspicious of Pena’s horses and one would have thought that more than 1,700 violations later we would have the answer.

We don’t.

What we may have is the opening of a Pandora’s Box for the sport. That’s if, and only if New York’s board is serious about convicting Pena and his associates for these activities.

If Pena’s quoted comments can be believed - and he wasn’t kidding when he suggested that he wasn’t going to “mow lawns” for a living in place of his chosen profession - then we can expect him to fight these charges first in the face of a scheduled hearing later this week with the New York Racing and Wagering Board and then most likely later in court.

The fact that Pena has already played the “race card” should come as no surprise. Yet this time, given the nature and results of the “targeted” investigation by the state, he could pose a legitimate challenge should the state not act responsibly and go after other “non-brown” individuals with similar racing profiles.

So here is the major problem should other leading trainers come under scrutiny - who will be left standing?

That’s right. According to more than one trainer we spoke with, the arsenal of medications Pena’s horses raced with are commonly used by pretty much all trainers in the sport and most likely among Thoroughbred conditioners as well. Despite the breadth of this inquiry and the uncovering of so much alleged wrongdoing, the harsh suspensions and fines are not related to positive tests. They are related to horses being medicated closer to post time than New York State rules allow.

The seizure of veterinary records and the clerical effort required to match those records with actual race dates, is essentially how this information came to light. It was a brilliant deduction by an as yet unnamed party to go after Pena, and anyone else, in uncovering such widespread rules violations. What New York has done and now must continue to do, is go after as many others as possible in the same manner they went after Pena. Anything short would just be proving Pena's case before it ever reaches a judge.

Let’s face it, what’s brilliant about the way New York went about its business, is the relatively low cost and high results they attained by doing this. No expensive tests. No research into discovering unknown medications that are more than likely the cause for horses going faster for some trainers than others. This was an economical way of attacking a problem that clearly does exits in both standardbred and thoroughbred racing.

What is the right thing to do?

Only time will tell if this tactic was in fact a blessing or a curse. Surely with vets records alone there have to be many high-profile trainers out there shaking in their collective boots. If proof already exists that can’t be undone by altering paper work, it’s reasonable to believe other big name trainers will be dealt with the same fate Pena is currently facing.

That’s because the drugs administered by these vets were legal. They are commonly used to help horses suffering from various ailments. Sure, they could help a horse’s performance if used too close to race day. Then again even racing commissions can’t seem to agree on a conclusion regarding just how late medication can be administered and not affect the outcome of a race. That is the Catch-22 in this unique effort to rid racing of its cheaters. New York and New Jersey may have agreed to share information in order to catch Pena, but very often the two states differ on just how much time before a race a particular legal drug can be administered.

Regardless of the lack of cohesive drug regulations from state to state, a trainer’s responsibility is to know the time frame drugs are permitted in each state and to secure that horses don’t race with drugs in their systems.

What’s starkly interesting about the lack of positive tests is the very fact that New York has given up testing for known medications. Essentially and most likely due to budget constraints, these horses and Pena were allowed to compete unfairly for more than two years precisely because of the lack of testing. One could deduce from the lack of serious testing that the board really wasn’t concerned with these “legal” drugs and concentrated its efforts on finding  “illegal” substances in a horse’s bloodstream.

Needless to say, despite great public support for throwing the book at allegedly “cheating” trainers, the Pena suspension does little to address or answer the more serious problems of illegal drugs in the sport. And at the same time should the top 10 trainers at Yonkers all find themselves with multiple violations of the same types of medication Pena is accused of misusing the entire sport will be irreparably damaged. There doesn’t appear to be a happy ending despite the loud cheers of many who are glad to finally be rid of Lou Pena.

If in fact a large majority participating as trainers in this sport were doing what Lou Pena was doing in regard to these alleged acts, what does that say about the racing board’s methods? What does that say about the sport’s integrity? What does it say about the ends justifying the means?

There may be a reason why no racing board or commission has ever gone down this path before in efforts to clean up pari-mutuel horse racing.

Now that the box has been opened what happens before and after the Pena case is litigated will determine whether this was the right or wrong thing to do for the sport.