06/25/2008 11:00PM

Rose's penalty an overreaction of the times

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NEW YORK - These are sad and dangerous times for racing. On a Saturday when fans would normally be anticipating and enjoying the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Mother Goose, and the Suburban, their sport is instead all over the headlines for entirely different reasons.

Last week it was a morning of Congressional hearings threatening federal regulation of a sport that often appears unable to regulate itself. Then, as if on cue, medication positives turned up in three different jurisdictions for horses trained by the most recent winners of the Kentucky Derby (Rick Dutrow, for a clenbuterol overage at Churchill Downs), Kentucky Oaks (Larry Jones for a clenbuterol overage at Delaware Park), and Breeders' Cup Classic (Steve Asmussen for a lidocaine positive at Lone Star Park.)

The trainers' reactions range from Dutrow's shrug over what would be his 14th fine or suspension for a medication overage to a contention of sabotage and conspiracy by Jones and the owner of the horse in question, the understandably mortified Jim Squires, a self-styled anti-medication crusader. Some of Asmussen's supporters have questioned the credibility and testing protocols surrounding his postitive.

Dutrow and Jones are looking at suspensions of no more than 15 days if the initial rulings against them are sustained in cases that may drag on for months. Meanwhile, jockey Jeremy Rose has already been handed a twelvefold harsher sentence in the form of a six-month suspension for striking a filly in the left eye with his whip during a race at Delaware last Monday.

It is fair to ask whether the frustration within the sport on the medication issue may have influenced the seemingly draconian treatment of Rose. If Rose had acted with malice and cruelty, six months wouldn't be enough. There is, however, absolutely no evidence that he did, and both he and the filly's trainer have said the incident was entirely accidental.

"This was an accident and not an intentional act on my part," Rose said in a statement Wednesday. "I did not mean to hit her in the face . . . There are no words to describe how badly I feel about this incident."

"I do not believe for a second that Jeremy acted intentionally or sought to hurt my filly," said Howard Wolfendale, the trainer of Appeal to the City, who finished third in the five-furlong grass race. She was taken to the New Bolton Center after the race, where the injury was deemed superficial and she is now back in Wolfendale's barn.

"It was an accident and should be viewed as such," the trainer added. "Jeremy has ridden for me for years. He is a gifted and highly respected rider. I know he feels terrible about this incident. I will not hesitate to use him again."

The swiftness and severity of the suspension, especially in light of the trainer's defense of the ride, seems so out of line with racetrack jurisprudence that it seems a clear overreaction fueled by the emotionally hysterical climate surrounding the game ever since the death of Eight Belles after the Kentucky Derby, which has become the lightning rod for a slew of real and imagined ills in the sport.

Eight Belles's death was an accident that had nothing to do with medication or cruelty, but medication is a very real issue. In the 1980s, the racing establishment unfortunately gave in to the contention of horsemen that a battery of legal raceday medications was necessary to meet the increased demands of year-round racing. This experiment has been a complete failure, with horses making fewer starts than ever and American racing steadily earning the contempt of the international racing community. The sport now has both the impetus and the opportunity to revisit that decision and if it does not, the federal government may try to do it for them, with potentially disastrous results.

The fake issue is cruelty to animals, the refuge of malicious agitators whose dangerously ignorant demands for change would damage or eliminate the breed. Yet the emotional impact of their inflammatory statements appears to have influenced the behavior of the regulators who want to ban Rose for six months.

"It involved allegations of animal abuse," John Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, told Daily Racing Form. "The racing commission is charged with protecting the horse, and this is very serious."

Rose has accepted full responsibility for the incident, offered to pay any veterinary costs before the commission ordered him to do so, and he and his attorney, Alan Foreman, believe a suspension is appropriate but that a six-month ban is excessive. It's a shame the commission can't be bothered to revisit the matter until its next regularly scheduled meeting July 22, but unless new information emerges between now and then, it would seem that time served would be punishment enough for Rose's errant blow.

The way things are going right now, there figure to have been at least another half-dozen more troubling episodes by then.