Between the past performance lines

The subject of illegal substances used in horse racing isn't far from any discussion of the sport, from Triple Crown participants to the beer and barbecue bellies in the boondocks.

At the lower levels of horse racing, the search between the past performance lines for illegal substance evidence is a legitimate handicapping angle: If that bozo won with that dog, then you have to look at everything else in his barn; his barn, because women seem more honest by definition. When introducing somebody new to the game to the basic strategy of horse race handicapping, cheaters figure into the picture from several angles. Those just caught are often prone to losing streaks. Extreme long shots busting like rockets from the gate for the first time ever can probably hear this down on the track: "Oh, really?"

Substances are used on horses because what consistent penalties there are remind a person of laws against drunk driving. You're on probation. All right, who's next?

Rules and penalties vary state to state. If somebody is charged with activities dangerous to life and limb, put thirty-five bucks worth of gas in the tank and run your horses across state lines. It's like jumping bail to a state without extradition rights.

Most defenses against substance abuse issues start with the "Yeah, but ... " defense.

Yeah, but the evidence was compromised.

Yeah, but nobody saw us do anything.

Yeah, but we were set up.

Yeah, but it wasn't illegal at the track we just left.

Yeah, but the precedent is probation.

Drugging or over-medicating a horse for profit is animal abuse, pure and simple.

The mistreatment of animals is considered to be a serious warning sign denoting the presence of some evilness or misguidance. Lives with histories of brutalism are replete with acts of unprovoked nastiness toward animals.

Drugging a horse isn't that far removed from dog fighting. Humans profit at the animal's expense. Injury or death is a possibility.

Horses are illegally medicated because the penalties are a joke. Horses don't have the need for regional treatment. There should be national rules. Penalties for juicing a horse are similar to the way first-round draft prospects are suspended for home openers against Chicken Feathers State. Cases are under review for years, then dropped because the evidence was too old. Penalties are so light, a person would almost have to be a saint not to stretch the rules.

Where's PETA when the horses need it? Where is the Humane Society? Lots of groups show up when the cameras are running after unavoidable accidents. If the industry can't take care of its most vulnerable players with consistent rules and uncompromising punishment, somebody needs to help.

What's worse than cheating?

Some of the cheaters who have hardly missed a day's work in horse racing make Pete Rose look like a monk.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.