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Thursday Thoughts: Can't Trust New WEG Rule to Make a Difference

by Al Cimaglia

October 11, 2018

Harness racing needs to adjust to the reality of what things are rather than what we wish they were. Many people don't adequately vet a heart surgeon, let a alone a horse trainer. To rely on owners to scrutinize a trainer's methods isn't reality. 

Last year the Gural-WEG (Woodbine Entertainment Group) initiative may have had good intentions but there were holes in the rule. This time around, the WEG has set out alone to rid the harness world of cheats. Correct intentions are evident but there needs to be an epiphany as to why this rule is needed. The sport would be better off without cheaters, but relying on owners who are the lifeblood of the industry to self-police does not seem like a recipe for success.

Last year's initiative punished owners with at least a 25% equity in a horse if their trainer was found guilty of a Class 1 or Class 2 positive. The recent WEG rule is more far reaching and can extend the punishment to owners with a smaller stake than 25%. The WEG did right by announcing the new rule before the Lexington Select Sale but if results are any indication, buyers came to play anyway.

Below is the new WEG owner integrity rule:

Effective Jan. 1, 2019, any owner who participates in a Woodbine standardbred stake race (added money greater than $50,000) with a trainer who has an outstanding Class 1, Class 2 or TC02 positive test under appeal in any jurisdiction, shall be ineligible to participate in any Woodbine standardbred stakes for 12 months following the conviction if such trainer is subsequently found guilty relating to the Class 1, Class 2 or TC02 positive test. The new conditions are only applicable to a positive test occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

In harness racing, because the rules seemingly aren't enforceable, the discipline system can't be trusted. If the rule breakers could be caught there would be no need to place the onus to rid the industry of cheaters on those who pay the bills and take on risk. Evidently an owner, who may simply be a hobbyist, can't afford to trust his or her trainer mainly because the cheats can't be caught.

First thing many owners need to do is to be able to define what a Class 1 or Class 2 or TCO2 positive test is, and don't expect to find any CliffsNotes or study guides on this topic. Next the owner must be able to confidently scrutinize the methods of their trainer or trust they won't break the rules. Many folks don't seem to spend a great deal of time vetting anyone. Can't say it seems likely an in-depth examination of a trainer's methodology has a good chance of happening.

Unfortunately, what will likely happen is those who are cheating now will continue on course. Asking owners to self-police is really a silly notion. We don't self-police as a society. What are the chances, in what is no more than a recreational past time for most owners, to have a different degree of self-awareness?

At the end of the day it all comes down to trust. We work a job, and trust the direct deposit is going to hit our bank account. We push a button on a PayPal screen and trust the payment has been made. We have to trust to some degree because that's how the entire global economic system works and our society as well. Most owners buy a piece of a horse looking to have a good time and they trust their trainer isn't using illegal drugs. 

Jeff Gural the Meadowlands owner didn't step forward and hold hands with the WEG as was the case last year. Gural has indicated he will be making a similar rule, it could have more teeth, but the end result will be no different. No matter if the testing lab is in Hong Kong, Lexington, Toronto or East Rutherford, the cheats can't be reeled in.

There are some very involved owners who have enough at stake and the experience to distinguish a "chemist trainer" from those who get results primarily because of good stock and know-how. There are also trainers who win at a high percentage who haven't faced long suspensions and don't deserve them, it's a slippery slope and best to not paint with a broad brush.

Evidently there is a select group of trainers who continually bend the rules and have great success. Can't say who this group of cheaters is because there isn't any proof. Which is exactly why they can't be caught, because there isn't any proof and therein lies the problem. Supposedly now everything will be better because owners will shy away from the cheats and they will be forced out of the business.

Hopefully I'm wrong, but I can't trust the owner's integrity rule to make much difference. It would be a lot better to find some proof.

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia