The famed Preakness Blue Ribbon Analysis is up on the “Horse Racing” page.
Why are these men laughing? The Russians, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, are probably saying “How did we luck into this fool?” (There was a time when when I spoke Russian, but cannot even follow the dialogue on The Americans, a program that I did not realize would have disturbing relevance in this day and age.)
Russian Foreign Ministry Photo (seriously) via AP
The photo is from the Oval Office during a meeting our President held the day after he fired the FBI Director because of the ongoing investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was at this meeting that Trump disclosed high-level classified information to our long-time global antagonist that compromised seriously a source of intelligence, according to The Washington Post.
The White House, of course, denied the report, sending out the once-credible NSA Advisor, H.R. McMaster, to deliver a response parsed so carefully that it would have made Bill Clinton – “it depends on what the meaning of “is” is – blush. Trump, of course, cut McMaster’s legs out from him by tweeting (of course) that he gave important facts to the Russians out of humanitarian (sic) concerns.
Now we have Vladimir Putin, formerly of the KGB, offering a transcript of the meeting to support the President’s position, whatever it is.
Now, if there truly was collusion between Trump and Putin, Putin would have been smart enough to realize that his endorsement would not only carry no weight in the US, but would indeed have been detrimental. And if Trump had a sentient advisor that he listened to, he would have been told the same thing.
The famed Blue Ribbon Kentucky Derby Analysis is up on the Horse Racing page.
To say that the nascent days of the Trump Administration have been marked by chaos and ineptitude would be a major understatement. In the more than two months between his election and inauguration, no significant work on policy priorities took place – or, if it did, it was completely incompetent. Thus, we had a hastily conceived policy on banning Muslims, and no leadership – unless you count bluster – on a health care bill.
Then there are the idiotic tweets. Anyone who was capable of thinking even one step ahead – let alone several steps – would have known that alleging wiretapping by your predecessor could not possibly survive even the first day of scrutiny. But this week brought two more instances that are simply staggering.
The first was the traditional Easter egg roll at the White House. Now I acknowledge that no President’s biography will ever mention this event, but it has been going on since the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Last year, 37,000 attended Barack Obama’s last one. It is an event with no down side. It is a feel-good, if meaningless, event that allows citizens to attend an event at the White House and walk away with good feelings and a souvenir wooden egg.
I could organize it, but the Trump Administration was in over its head on even this. The maker of the wooden eggs could not find anyone at the White House to order them, and had to resort to Twitter – what else? – to get attention. The event drew about half the crowd as the one last year.
There are some who suspect that one of Trump’s biggest concerns – after adoration – is size. Facing another debacle in which something he did was compared to Obama, Trump did what he always does in the face of possible embarrassment – find someone to blame. This time he nobly picked out his wife, Melania. While he ostensibly praised her for her work on the event, that was merely a hedge against the anticipated negative comparison with Obama.
As truly trivial as this matter is, the other event is on the opposite end of the spectrum – i.e., the risk of nuclear war. For days we read and heard about the Carl Vinson carrier group “steaming” toward the Korean peninsula in advance of an anticipated nuclear test by North Korea to mark the anniversary of the birth its founder. As the President of the United States said, “We are sending an armada, very powerful.” This occurred in the context of increasingly bellicose rhetoric and the United States’ bombing Syria and Afghanistan.
Tension was high. We are, after all, dealing with an unstable and unpredictable autocrat – and also there is Kim Jong-un.
It turns out that the much-hyped carrier fleet was actually sailing away from the Korean peninsula and was meeting up with the Australian Royal Navy to conduct exercises. As Charlie Pierce wrote in his blog, “Who among us has not misplaced an aircraft carrier?”
It was not until news reports surfaced – you know, what the President calls “fake news” – that officials at the White House acknowledged that, indeed, the Carl Vinson had not been deployed as a deterrent to North Korea.
Just what is going on here? Is there not a single person in the Trump Administration who might think it is not a good idea to ratchet up tensions in a volatile region over something that did not happen?
The New York legislature has approved a new law to replace the temporary “reorganization” law from 2012, but it guarantees that Andrew Cuomo retains control of racing at Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct. While the legislative leaders and various media sources proclaim this is a glorious return to private control of the New York Racing Association, the reality is far different.
Under the budget law for the new fiscal year, signed by Cuomo, the governing board of NYRA has been dramatically restructured. The Board will remain at 17 members, but allow two entities that represent horsemen and horsewomen, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, to each have a vote. The Senate gets two appointments as does the Assembly.
The remaining 11 seats are controlled by the Governor. The NYRA CEO and President – currently Chris Kay, who is effectively a Cuomo appointee – will be on the Board. The Governor makes two direct appointments. The remaining eight seats, however, will be appointed by a current NYRA Board committee that is dominated by Cuomo loyalists. Cuomo also appoints the Board Chairperson from the members of the new board.
It is that NYRA committee that permits the fiction that NYRA will be under private control. Of the six committee members, three are appointees of Cuomo, one of the Senate, and one from the former NYRA Board. The sixth member of the group, and the chairman, is Michael DelGiudice. Although he was appointed by the Assembly, if there is any doubt about his allegiance to Cuomo, he has said “Andrew is like a younger brother to me.”
Now it is true that all six of the committee members are private citizens, although five of the six are appointed by the state government. Indeed, of the fifteen members on the Reorganization Board, there was only one government employee. Nonetheless, the agency committed to overseeing New York’s public records law and open meetings law, the Committee on Open Government, concluded that the appointment of a majority of that Board by government officials was an important factor in deciding that it was a public entity.
Perhaps you think that appointees of Governor Cuomo are capable of exercising independent judgment and will select Board members who are independent and competent. You must also be eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Easter Bunny this weekend.
The only truly private members of the new Board are from the organizations representing the breeders, owners and trainers – the people responsible for ensuring that New York has horses that enable it to have horse racing.
So we have gone from a “government-controlled” Board in which 12 of the 17 members were appointees of the government to one in which 15 of the 17 are either appointed directly by the government or are controlled by the government. This is privatization?
The Reorganization Board that is being replaced had five truly private members from the predecessor NYRA Board. In all candor, those five did nothing over the last five years to provide a check on the Governor. They were, after all, part of a toothless board that rolled over and allowed Cuomo to seize control of racing back in 2012 following a brief campaign of threats, intimidation and baseless allegations of inappropriate behavior. They will not be missed.
New York had a unique opportunity to come up with a different approach. While it already has the best racing in the country, it could also have innovative and thoughtful leadership that would grow the fan base and lead to sustainable growth. Instead, we have the small-bore leadership of a Chris Kay and now a structure that will remain a patronage haven for hacks and campaign contributors that will not move the sport forward.
It is a shame.
I went in to NYRA’s web site today and was intrigued by an item on their home page. If this is to be believed, they are selling former items that were given away for free on “giveaway days.” Perhaps I am underselling this. It is from the “NYRA Vintage Giveaway Store.”
You can buy the 2017 Calendar – “only 12 left in stock” – or the Aqueduct thermal mug, of which only 11 remain. The best value, however, may be the “Belmont Park Barbecue Set” for a mere $8, but hurry, “only 12 remain in stock.”
I eagerly anticipate checking this out tomorrow morning to see if I was duped.
“Honest people have a hard time making money.”
— A backstretch veteran
If you want to curtail the use of illegal drugs in racing, you need an effective program of out-of-competition testing (OCT). While New York State has regulations authorizing OCT, it appears that it does almost no testing.
In response to a request for records going back to 2014, New York’s Gaming Commission cited six examples of OCT for Standardbreds racing at two of the state’s harness tracks. The records for Thoroughbreds showed the only testing may have been in the three days preceding $1 million Grade I races.
Out-of-competition testing is not to be confused with the standard post-race testing that occurs following every race for some of the entrants. Rather, it is done at random, at tracks and off-track facilities, to identify illegal drugs that may not show up in the post-race test, or for which existing testing is inadequate. Surprise is an essential component of an effective program since it makes it more difficult for cheaters to hide their conduct.
By contrast to the experience of the New York regulatory agencies, Jeff Gural, who owns two harness tracks in New York in addition to New Jersey’s Meadowlands, takes the program seriously and has a full-time investigator who administers tests. Gural doesn’t rely on the government agencies and pays for the testing out of his own pocket.
Gural is a welcome iconoclast in the world of racing who is outspoken on many matters, but none more so than in stopping the use of illegal medications. He does not hesitate to ban abusers from his tracks, relying extensively on out-of-competition testing. As he explained in the November 16, 2016, issue of ThoroughbredDailyNews, “without out-of-competition testing, you cannot solve the problem.” It’s not just the perception of a sport by outsiders that is important, but protecting those who are playing by the rules from unfair competition.
Gural and his investigator discovered the abuse of Cobalt in 2013, before it achieved the international notoriety it now possesses. Cobalt is a medication with serious – potentially fatal – side effects. No state regulatory bodies uncovered the use of Cobalt, but Gural’s investigator did.
Other sports have been dragged into drug testing after much resistance. Major League Baseball winked at the widely-acknowledged use of performance-enhancing-drugs until it became impossible to ignore.
Perhaps no sport, however, has been as widely exposed as international bicycling. Lance Armstrong was an American hero with his seven Tour de France wins even amid rumors of his doping. He denied the claims, citing the fact that he had never tested positive. Because of the wide-spread complaints about Armstrong’s drug use, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigated, succeeding in obtaining incriminating statements from several teammates.
The USADA report is an indictment of both Armstrong the person and the cyclist. One of the more revealing episodes demonstrated not only Armstrong’s duplicity, but the extent to which those committed to cheating will go. Blood doping was a common tool used by Armstrong and his team. Knowing the duration between doping and the time for the evidence to dissipate, Armstrong once stopped the team bus between the end of one race stage and the hotel where they were likely to be tested. Intra-venous bags were hung from the overhead racks and the entire team doped, explaining the delay in reaching the hotel by saying the bus had a breakdown.
This past summer, Jeff Novitzky was a featured speaker at The Jockey Club’s annual Round Table Conference. When I saw that the Executive Director of the UFC was to speak, I did a double-take since the only UFC of which I was aware was the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The head of that group was speaking to the assembled elite of the Sport of Kings?
But The Jockey Club has become the leading institutional proponent of enhancing the integrity of racing by eliminating medications, both illegal and ones permitted on race-day. The head of USADA, Travis Tygart, and Edwin Moses, one of the world’s all-time greatest athletes, have spoken in recent conferences. Novitzky fit right in, describing his use of out-of-competition testing to clean up his sport.
Novitzky has an investigatory career that included Armstrong, Roger Clemens and BALCO of Barry Bonds fame. He would ask the athletes who were caught why they cheated. The most common responses were that the athlete did not trust teammates or competitors to be clean. Most disturbing, however, they did not trust the oversight body for their sport to enforce a level playing field.
Horse racing is not oblivious to the importance of out-of-competition testing. Joe Gorajec has spent his adult life in the racing business. For 25 years he served as the Executive Director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission when Indiana became the first state to adopt the model rule on use of anabolic steroids, the first to regulate Cobalt and one of the first to adopt OCT.
Gorajec spoke at this year’s Saratoga Institute, sponsored by Albany Law School, where he compared the frequency of OCT at important international jurisdictions with the United States. In the UK, the rate of testing is 12%; it’s 11% in Hong Kong and 10% in France. It is one percent (1%) in the US.
New York is a miniscule portion of that one percent, but nonetheless is aware fully of the importance of out-of-competition testing. In explaining its reason for adopting OCT regulations, the state cited the significance of the rule for enhancing the integrity of racing and the safety of horses:
“Doping agents with these traits are posing a great threat to racing integrity. They threaten the integrity of athletic competitions by having an affect [sic] on race performance that cannot be forecast by the betting public, and that gains an unfair advantage over other horsemen and owners.… When used by healthy competitors, they have the capacity to create dangerous and unfair abilities to perform.”
Yet New York appears to have done practically nothing to achieve those goals.
I received records from the Gaming Commission in response to a public records request covering the period going back to January 1, 2014. In that period, only six Standardbred horses were identified as testing positive as a result of out-of-competition testing. No Thoroughbreds tested positive – as in, none.
All six Standardbreds tested positive for Cobalt. Five of the six had previously tested positive for Cobalt in a post-race test. One can certainly wonder about the acumen of those who continued to administer a prohibited drug after a positive test, but they are rather obviously not in the group adept at cheating.
Among the records I requested were those for the number of tests conducted by the State of New York for a period going back almost three years, as well as the identities of the trainers whose horses were tested, and why they were tested. While the Gaming Commission provided me with records of the six positives, and the New York Racing Association gave me a generic policy, both denied my request for the other information.
The public records law presumes that records maintained by government agencies such as the Gaming Commission and the NYRA Board are public. There are limited exceptions, including the one used by the Commission and NYRA in denying significant portions of my requests. For example, records need not be disclosed if “compiled for law enforcement purposes and which, if disclosed, would … reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures….”
Both the Gaming Commission and NYRA explained their reasoning supporting this exemption: Drug cheaters “could evade detection by deliberately tailoring their conduct in anticipation of avenues of inquiry to be pursued by agency personnel.”
And I do not quarrel with either agency’s decision to withhold records that would assist the drug cheaters in evading detection. But that is not the bulk of what I was asking for.
Statistical records concerning the number of tests, the trainers and horses tested, and the results do not allow cheaters to evade detection. The only way it does assist cheaters is if the number of random and surprise testing is negligible over a period of almost three years. Then the cheaters would know that New York does not have a serious program of out-of-competition testing. Of course, they already know that.
One of the more laughable aspects of the “program” regarding Thoroughbreds is that the only evidence of possible testing is for entrants in the Grade I stakes with a purse of at least $1 million. Both the Commission and NYRA make a big deal of their “integrity protocols” in advance of such races. One of the protocols is that horses must be on the grounds three days before the race and are subject to out-of-competition testing. Of course, that belies their stated rationale that informing drug cheaters of their procedures enables them to evade detection. More significantly, however, is that many of the most troublesome illegal drugs are not going to be administered within that time period.
The Gaming Commission’s refusal to provide access to the OCT records – or even to identify the records at issue – is a remarkable position for a government agency that frequently states its goal of enhancing the safety of its athletes and promoting public confidence in the integrity of the sport. Providing statistical information and the names of trainers whose horses were tested would greatly enhance public confidence that the sport is doing what it can to make the sport clean. Of course, if the answer is that New York is not testing in any meaningful way, the perception of integrity in racing plummets even further.
There is also a suspicion that New York’s lack of enthusiasm in out-of-competition testing may be to keep the high profile barns with large stables in New York. New York recently confronted an analogous situation in which equine safety took a back seat to the need to increase field size. The NYRA Racing Office at one time had the say on whether veterinarians could scratch horses following a race-day exam. A spike in fatalities at Aqueduct in 2012 lead to an investigation in which he Racing Office’s role was stopped.
Within the racing community itself, there is considerable controversy over the extent of illegal use of drugs. Those opposing federal legislation that would bring racing under the jurisdiction of the United States Anti-Doping Agency cite the infinitesimal level of positives that are detected by standard post-race testing. Of course, Lance Armstrong never tested positive either.
The 2011 Jockey Club Round Table featured a report from McKinsey & Company that highlighted the significant negative impression of the sport by both the general public and even racing fans. According to the report, only “22% of the general public has a positive impression of Thoroughbred racing.” Perhaps even more disturbing is that among racing fans, “just 46% … would recommend their friends” follow the sport.
At this year’s Round Table, a slide presentation referenced a survey in which 69 per cent of respondents identified “drugs” as a “very important” issue and 66 per cent cited “integrity issues.”
While the public records law clearly requires the disclosure of many of the records I requested, the Gaming Commission should stand by its frequent statements that the safety of both equine and human athletes is a priority to it, and that enhancing the public’s perception of integrity in racing is a paramount concern. Hiding behind bogus legal arguments protects only its seeming incompetence and the cheaters who are out there.
When I received decisions from attorneys for the Gaming Commission and NYRA denying access to most of the records I requested, I asked that they reconsider on the basis that statistical records could not possibly “reveal criminal investigative techniques and procedures” permitting the cheaters to evade detection. The Gaming Commission attorney basically said, “Sue me.” NYRA’s attorney did not respond.
While I doubt that anyone who follows New York government will be surprised at the arrogance and secrecy of these two agencies, the victims here are not only the public that has a right to know what its government is doing. More importantly, it is the human and equine athletes who could benefit from a little sunshine.
Transparency would also assist those who do play by the rules to have confidence that the cheaters are being pursued. It all goes back to what the UFC’s Jeff Novitzky said in his speech last summer. Cheaters do what they do because they do not trust competitors to play fairly, nor do they trust the sport’s governing bodies to even care if cheating is going on.