by Al Cimaglia
February 8, 2018
A friend summed it up best for me many years ago, implementing change can be like turning the Queen Mary around in the Chicago River. Make no mistake change can be useful but it comes with consequences and good intentions only matter so much.
The directive from the WEG and Jeff Gural basically mandating owners to self-police themselves regarding slippery trainers may have been well-intentioned but it was full of holes. Asking any group to keep each other in line usually doesn't work.
What needed to happen first was to define rules and try to make them the same in every jurisdiction. If not, punishment can be viewed as subjective and inconsistent. Even if the intentions are good, the unintended consequences can be more damaging than the original issues. When rules aren't defined trouble follows, look no further than some of the major sports for proof.
The NFL, trying to add more scoring has tweaked its rules and has found with change comes consequences. No matter how many HD cameras are showing the action, video review is only as good as the underlying rule. If a legal catch can't be defined properly the video review process is limited.
The NHL was the first sport to use video review but is still trying to perfect its usage. The NHL isn't nearly as popular as the NFL, but they have one upped them. The NFL has issues with catch or no catch, the NHL has two problems, off-side reviews and goaltender interference.
The NHL installed cameras on the blueline to make certain if a linesman blew an off-side call it wouldn't lead to a goal. The cameras are in place and working fine but the video review process is still murky. That's because the written off-side rule is not defined properly.
What happens when a player's one skate is behind the blueline as the puck crosses it and the other is in the air? Is it the plane of the blueline that matters or is it where a skate is on the ice? The written rule never defined the difference.
There's similar issues with goal tender interference, it is not accurately explained. Coaches, play-by-play announcers and analyst admit they can't tell what constitutes goalie interference. Again, it doesn't matter how many cameras are involved, or who reviews the tape if the rule is poorly written.
In the past few weeks, some owners have quickly reduced their stakes to get under the 25% WEG-Gural ownership guideline. How's that going to affect sale prices and breeders?
Trainers are now receiving six or eight-month suspensions for a picogram of containment found in a horse's blood work. In case you didn't know, because I didn't, a picogram is equal to one trillionth of a gram or 0.001 nanogram. So, a trainer's reputation is getting damaged for something found in a horse's system that couldn't possibly enhance its performance. Possibly the punishment would be far different in the jurisdiction next door. Where's the consistency and which rule book is best?
Another consequence comes when the focus shifts from fixing a problem to personal attacks. Some say the motivation for cracking down on the bad guys came because track management also owns horses. They want owners to police themselves because they are unable to find the crooked trainers guilty.
No matter how many cameras are used in replays. No matter how many labs are used to test blood samples. No matter how much the WEG and Jeff Gural reel back the original rule, change the language and provide a new directive it won't matter. None of it does if the rules are blurry, just look to the NFL and NHL to see how little good intentions matter.
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.