by Al Cimaglia
January 11, 2018
The Standardbred Racing Integrity and Accountability Initiative (SRIAI) was instituted earlier this month. It was brought forward by the WEG (Mohawk & Woodbine Racing) as well as Jeff Gural owner of the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs. This rule will absolutely get the attention of owners and trainers.
The rule states any owner, trainer getting a positive for a prohibited foreign substance classified as Class 1, Class 2, TCO2 or steroids after January 1, 2018 will not be allowed to participate in stakes races at the five tracks involved with the initiative.
The rule further states the owner is eligible for the punishment if they own 25% or more of the horse. To take the punishment further a trainer can't switch the horse out of his name to anyone who is associated with their stable. The owner, trainer, and the horse will be ineligible to participate in stake races at the five tracks for all of 2018.
My first reaction was this is great news but upon further reflection, although the intent is correct this initiative came too soon. It would have been better if the elephant in the room would have been addressed first. The initial order of business should have been to establish a unified rule book for all jurisdictions. There is too much ambiguity for trainers and veterinarians from state to state. The testing and rule book is not the same at all race tracks. Unfortunately, this puts many honest trainers in a position to fail, rather than succeed.
If by chance the WEG-Gural rule is not adopted by all harness tracks, especially those in the Midwest and Pennsylvania, it will be a bad reflection on the sport. It's great the heavyweights, the Big M and Mohawk-Woodbine pushed for change. But how much will the impact of the rule be diminished if business goes on as usual in other places which conduct long meets with many stake races?
The percentage of ownership being set at 25% or more for punishment is interesting. What if someone owns 100% of a horse now and decides to put his wife and two adult children down as owners as well? The four own 24% each and the other 4% is sold. In that case, the horse and trainer would be barred but not the owners.
The new rule is a good sign, those with the most to lose if harness racing continues to decline are paying attention. But this initiative should have been step two, the first step requires a lot of heavy lifting and every jurisdiction to hold hands. One rule book that contains the same rules should have happened first. Then every jurisdiction would need to embrace the WEG-Gural initiative.
Maybe I'm asking for too much and should be content, but it doesn't feel right. Although the punishments will be stiff some of the same problems will continue to exist. For the public to further embrace harness racing the picture needs to be clear and all jurisdictions should enforce the same rules in the same way.
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.