Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Pseudo Science Triumphs in Ohio

Yet another state sinks further into the hysteria over baking soda. Notwithstanding the fact that the efficacy of so-called "milkshakes" is scientifically unproven, the state of Ohio has announced plans to expand pre-race blood gas testing, already performed at harness tracks, to the Thoroughbred tracks as well. Trainers will now face the propects of having their horses stopped enroute to the paddock and blood extracted from their arteries in the name of "racing integrity".

In announcing the expansion, the Ohio commission's executive director not only gave the pseudo science bandwagon a nice boost, but threw in a little voodoo economics, too, declaring that expansion of the program from 2,000 tests a year to 4,500 tests a year will be accomplished with "no additional costs." That feat could be on a par with the New Testament loaves and fishes story. Maybe they should assign this guy to solving the problem of dwindling purses in Ohio.

Read the full story at the Thoroughbred Times, HERE. Note the reporter's diplomatic description, aka pussyfooting around, the real issue: "(milkshaking)...increases TCO2 levels in the Thoroughbred, believed to increase stamina." (my emphasis).

My original article about this travesty: The War on Baking Soda.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is Pammy's Boycott Just a Big Bust?

To paraphrase President Clinton, sometimes you write an article just because you can.

Ever since Pamela Anderson announced plans to boycott, I've been waiting and waiting for a panic-stricken Churchill Downs management to offer some really super deals on attendance at this year's Kentucky Derby, but with the event only a little more than three weeks away, my faith in Pam's grass-roots support is beginning to wane. Where are the cut-rate tickets, the last-minute appeals for fans to rally in support of a seriously endangered racing institution? It's hard to believe that the girl who battled the Miller Lite girls in that sexy pillow fight commercial doesn't command a serious following.

Strangely, only a few years ago, it seemed that "making horses race for our pleasure" was ok, and the Derby was not a cruel spectacle, but a trendy, hip event, requiring the star of big and small screen, as well as underground video, to attend, along with fiance de jour, Kid Rock.

But what a difference one sponsor makes. This year, clearly insensitive Churchill execs have allowed Yum! Brands, Inc., the parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, to become the first-ever corporate sponsors of the Derby. KFC had already been the target of Pam's ire because of their alleged (by her friends at PETA) torture and killing of chickens. Well, actually, millions of us knew about the killing part, thanks to our participation in the finger-lickin-good fruits of these atrocities. The torture? Well if KFC is torturing chickens in the same way that we are torturing horses, I'd say the whole thing just might be a figment of somebody's imagination.

But then, Pammy has based an entire career on blowing things out of proportion. This is documented at an especially fine website HERE (don't worry, it's not even softcore), and should raise at least some concern as to whether she ever cared about the poor lab animals who gave their lives to test the safety of silicone implants.

I suppose I really shouldn't care if Pam comes to the Kentucky Derby or not. It doesn't look like I'm going to get a bargain basement deal on the tickets anyway. I'll probably just watch it on TV.

And hope they run those beer commercials a few more times.

Find your favorite Pam site at pamfan.net

Thursday, April 06, 2006

New Scandal, New Stupidity

All hell broke loose in the harness racing business last week. Although the jugheads are completely outside my area of interest or competence, this case has brought forth some comments from the regulators that should make everybody sit up and take notice.

The events, so far: employees of Seldon Ledford, the second leading harness trainer in the country, with outfits in both Illinois and New Jersey, were arrested, including Ledford's son Eric, a driver at the Meadowlands, assistant trainer Ryan Dailey, and Dailey's wife, Ardena. Also arrested was veterinarian John Witmer. According to local reports, $150,000 worth of pharmaceuticals, many of them banned substances like EPO and morphine, were removed by New Jersey state police from the homes of Dailey and Witmer. The State of Illinois swiftly entered the picture, reportedly scratching Ledford trainees at Maywood Park and launching its own investigation.

Looks like possession charges are a slam dunk against the assistant trainer and the vet. After that, especially due to the comments of the New Jersey cops, things get a little murky.

First of all, say the police, these charges are the result of an 18 month investigation, during which time, it seems to me, hundreds of starters could have been treated with illegal substances and thousands of bettors duped. Yet, apparently, not once could anybody be caught in the act of administering an illegal drug, nor did numbers of bad post-race tests come back. Nevertheless, said one of the gumshoes: "We've been monitoring some of these horses and their form reversals for 18 months. Some of the changes in the horses, it's just unexplainable, except if performance-enhancing drugs are introduced."

So after a year and a half of studying form reversals, police charged the four, not with the administration of illegal drugs, but with race fixing. It seems the cops seriously intend to use their expert conclusions as evidence in a trial.

None of us want to see cheaters get away with it, but there are clearly some problems with the New Jersey approach. Most obvious, from a horseman's point of view, is the cops' very definition of "race fixing". Classically, fixing a race means conspiring to arrive at a pre-arranged outcome for the purpose of cashing a bet. By all accounts, both factual and legendary, race fixing involves cooperation among race participants. On an individual basis, TRYING TO WIN A RACE IS NOT RACE FIXING. It's what everybody's supposed to be doing. It's what a trainer does when he changes a horse's nutrition, its blinkers, or its shoes. It's the trainer's job to win, and in the case of a poor performer, or a new horse in the barn, reversal of form is precisely the desired outcome. The idea that doing this too well could constitute proof of wrongdoing is ludicrous.

What the regulators and law enforcers are supposed to do is gather evidence of actual rule violations. Except for the seizure of banned drugs (not at the racetrack, by the way), this doesn't seem to have happened in New Jersey. I could only imagine that when the cops go to court to explain how they investigated for eighteen months without obtaining any physical evidence of illegal drug administration, their competence as investigators will be seriously questioned long before they ever get a chance to dazzle the judge with their handicapping skills.

Meanwhile, all you 20 percent (or more) winning trainers better start looking over your shoulders. If serious reversal of form becomes evidence of criminal activity, there could be hard times ahead, including the re-introduction of witch hunts and show trials into polite society. In some ways, it has already started. As well documented in this blog, we have already seen the criminalization of baking soda in many jurisdictions, without a shred of supporting scientific evidence, because of its reputed ability to "move a horse up". Stay tuned.