One state takes a stand

In this country, drug positives usually result in a slap on the wrist, a 30 or 60-day suspension for a trainer, who turns the stable over to the assistant, all the while still running the show from behind the scenes. That's not much of a deterrent, one of the reasons American horse racing isn't nearly as clean as it should be.

But that's no longer the case in Indiana. Cheat there and you will pay and pay severely.

Last week, four standardbred horsemen had the book thrown at them by Joe Gorajec, the powerful head of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission and a guy who, evidently, doesn't mess around. All four had horses test positive for the drug dexamethasone with horses competing at Hoosier Park. One, trainer Mark P'Pool, had 11 positives for the drug. He received a meaty six-year suspension and a $30,000 fine. The three others, who were also allegedly using dexamethasone, were suspended for two years and fined $10,000.

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that does have therapeutic qualities. However, it can not be administered within 24 hours of a race because it can have short-term euphoric effects on a horse while also acting as an anti-inflammatory agent. In each case, a laboratory confirmed that the drug was given to the horse's within 24 hours of their racing.

When contacted, Gorajec politely declined to discuss the P'Pool case, saying he was not permitted to speak on the matter until the cases have been closed. The individuals involved have the right to request a hearing and have their cases heard by an administrative law judge.

But Gorajec has already spoken quite clearly with his actions: he is not going to deal lightly with people who give performance-enhancing drugs to horses in Indiana.

"Joe is probably as powerful an executive director as there is at any racing commission in America," said Harness Tracks of America Executive Vice President Stan Bergstein. "The Indiana Racing Commission has given Joe very wide latitude. He pretty much determines who gets what and how they get it. He drafted all of the state's new rules last winter himself, some of which were not greeted with enthusiasm by horsemen. He put in new rules concerning how investigators can go around the stables during the day and he barred veterinarians from doing certain practices during the course of a racing day. He's been very much an anti-illegal medication guy from Day One. This is sort of the culmination of that, but it's not a departure from his normal activities. He is a very tough executive director."

Thoroughbred racing is now underway at Hoosier Park. Is it completely clean? Probably not. No racetrack is. But it is my guess that racing in Indiana is as honest as it gets, thanks to Joe Gorajec.

"What Joe Gorajec has been doing serves as a deterrent," Bergstein said. "I know that because I have heard trainers who race there say they realize this guy is deadly serious. I think it will result in fact that people racing at Hoosier and Indiana Downs will be a lot more careful than they have been in the past. I strongly applaud what he has done."

While understanding that no holds are going to be barred when it comes to the campaigning and politicking for the New York racing franchise, the fact that Empire Racing blamed NYRA mismanagement for declining attendance at Saratoga was more than a bit unfair.

Empire, widely viewed as the leading contender to beat out the New York Racing Association for the right to run Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga starting in 2008, recently put out a press release blasting NYRA for the fact on-track attendance at Saratoga has declined 13 percent since 2003.

"We must realize Saratoga's success is not a given and in fact attendance is falling. Saratoga continues to be threatened by the very poor performance at the downstate race tracks," said Jeff Perlee. "NYRA's rosy spin is betrayed by the facts. NYRA claims success yet continues to seek more money from the state to compensate for its mismanagement."

What racetrack has not seen its on-track attendance decline since 2003? People aren't showing up at the track in the numbers they used to anywhere in the country and the reason is that it's a lot easier to bet from your home or from a simulcast location.

Perhaps no track in the nation has seen more severe declines in on-track attendance in recent years than Gulfstream Park, which is run by Magna Entertainment. That's the same Magna Entertainment that is partnering with Empire it its bid to take over New York racing. Funny how Empire has failed to put out a press release castigating Magna for its many failings.

The recent press release about Saratoga might also have been better received had it contained even one thought or idea as to how Empire can do a better job attracting people to the track in New York. It did not.