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Letters to the editor
Trainer remarks showed a poor grasp of reality
I read with interest the column by T.J. Simers in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, apparently prompted by a complaint by trainer Jeff Mullins - whose horses were subject to prerace quarantine after a test for alkalizing agents came back positive - that he has been unfairly picked on.
First, I found it amazing that Mullins called those who wager on horse racing "idiots." This is the most absurd statement he could possibly make. It is those "idiots" who support him and allow him to make a very good living. Horse racing, without wagering, would cease to exist. And I can't imagine what some of the owners of his horses feel like, since it is clear that some of them wager; thus Mullins thinks some must be idiots.
As to a conflict issue with Ingrid Fermin of the California Horse Racing Board, it is a bunch of nonsense. When Ms. Fermin was appointed to her present position, it was subsequent to her being a steward for many years. You know, the people who watch races, disqualify, fine, and suspend horsemen for infractions every day - the people horsemen love to hate. Fermin happens to be tough, real tough, on enforcement issues. When the executive director position came up at the racing board, lo and behold, the board received an outpouring of support for Fermin from trainers and owners. They supported someone who would enforce the rules, especially on medication. For Mullins to insinuate that his plight has anything to do with a horse being claimed from the barn of Fermin's brother-in-law, Bruce Headley, is ridiculous.
(What is interesting is that when that claimed horse, Choctaw Nation, was part of a record pick six payoff last year, the sole winner was one of the "idiot" owners for whom Mullins trains.)
Mullins has brought the spotlight on himself. First he became one of the best trainers in California based on percentages, a real supertrainer. When milkshake testing began, however, a Mullins horse tested positive. His horses, no different than those of any other trainer with the same results, went to the detention barn. Now Mullins wants to claim that his 30 percent winning rate went to 9 percent because the poor horses were displaced from their usual comfy stalls. Yet they got the same grooms, same food, same flies. To say it was because they were moved is foolish. Many of the horses who race every day are shipped in from either Hollywood Park, San Luis Rey Downs, or Pomona. And what about horses who are flown all over the country for big races? Mullins horses were moved a five iron away and were having nervous breakdowns and separation anxiety?
As for the claim of a conflict of interest regarding Rick Arthur, the veterinarian supervising milkshake testing, he is one of the foremost experts in racing on this subject. The tests are performed at the University of California at Davis, in a secure lab. Names are not known until a horse comes up positive. A test is run 10 times before being declared a positive.
I believe the fans are the ultimate beneficiaries of this testing. Racing owes the wagering public as much information as possible. While it is impossible to know about every sore hoof, the guardians of the sport are trying to make the public aware of everything possible. Perhaps we should have a notation in the program and Racing Form that denotes which horses are running from the detention barn, similar to who is using Lasix.
It is a terrible injustice to all of the hardworking, honest horsemen that they get painted by the remarks of one misguided trainer. Racing and its fans deserve better. I don't think our fans are "idiots." I think those who cheat are.
Richard B. Shapiro, commissioner
California Horse Racing Board
Owners need to brush up on Chemistry 101
Reading the Racing Form in the past year has been an education in medication. It has made me feel as if I need a degree in chemistry instead of a horseman's education to train horses.
There have been recent admissions of guilt as to violations of medication rules printed in the Form. For instance: "Because this is a competitive business, you do stuff you've got to do to try to win races." ("Kitchingman runners quarantined," Feb. 25.)
Some individuals have been caught. They have been caught in the same manner as the trainers who were caught using clenbuterol several years ago. They have not been penalized, however, and in fact, still train barns full of horses.
I suggest that it is up to the owners of these horses not to reward such dishonest conduct. Owners say that they want an even playing field. Many have expressed the opinion that these trainers should be penalized, or there will be no reason not to cheat.
If the past is any indication, these trainers will avoid any serious penalties, and end up with barns full of horses. Maybe the owners, who claim that they wish to level the playing field, need to penalize these trainers in the only way available to them: Take the horses from the cheaters and give them to the "hat, oats and water" crowd.
Kudos to Wes and Sharon Fitzpatrick, who removed Continental Red from the Adam Kitchingman barn after a finding of excess carbon dioxide levels.
Kentucky authority gave horsemen bum's rush
Reasonable people can disagree about the need for changes to Kentucky's current regulations regarding raceday medication. What is not debatable is the shabby treatment afforded horsemen and veterinarians who attended the Feb. 22 meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority at Kentucky Horse Park ("Stricter medication rules approved," Feb 24).
The meeting was held in what turned out to be grossly inadequate quarters because of the large attendance by Kentucky horsemen and racetrack veterinarians. Seating was provided for approximately 20 percent of the attendees. The rest of the crowd was left to stand. One wonders if the cramped venue and inadequate seating was purposely chosen to discourage attendance. If so, it failed.
The authority's chairman, Bill Street, began the proceedings by warning all that he was short on patience because he had gotten up early that morning to travel to the meeting. Imagine, talking to horse trainers about getting up early.
Bob DeSensi and Dr. John Piehowicz made concise but thoughtful presentations for maintaining Kentucky's present medication regulations, but a request by Marty Maline of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to give a brief summation was denied by the chairman. After those presentations were made from the back of the crowded room, the presenters for the authority's preferred view were encouraged to step to the front of the room so "everyone could hear" what they had to say. I was surprised they were not provided a podium and microphone.
In the end, neither the time provided for opposition views nor the location of the presenters really mattered. The unanimous vote by the authority to modify medication regulations was a foregone conclusion. The invitation for debate was just something that needed to be checked off en route to the inevitable.
In the end, the arrogance and elitism displayed by the authority was astonishing.