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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drug Poster Boys: A Double Standard?

Oh, the irony! Earlier this week IEAH announced it was going to race drug-free effective October 1, and then its top trainer Rick Dutrow gets suspended 15 days (!) in the state of Kentucky for Salute the Count testing positive for twice the permitted level of clenbuterol. According to KHRA, the suspension plus forfeiture of purse money is the first offense penalty. Sorry, but I share Ray Paulick’s opinion—Dutrow is hardly a first-time offender, and shouldn’t be treated as such, regardless of whether or not he has been caught before in Kentucky. This is why we need a national uniform policy regarding drug use in horse racing—and now!

Dutrow’s response today?: “I think I did an unbelievable job with Big Brown. But everybody is, ‘What about the clenbuterol? What about the Winstrol?’ It got nothing to do with what we have done with Big Brown. Nobody is saying anything about the good things. They are just pounding on the Winstrol and clenbuterol: just the things that look like they might be bad. I’ve done a great job with this horse, you all, and you guys should be thinking about that, and writing about that.”

Truly, is he totally clueless? Not only does he think the press (and thus fans) should only be talking about the “unbelievable job” he did with Big Brown (would that be the one that resulted in perhaps the most overwhelming favorite in Triple Crown history finishing dead last against an unbelievably weak Belmont field?), but also he admits in the same Bloodhorse article that he failed to inform IEAH’s Michael Iavarone of the impending clenbuterol announcement when Iavarone discussed with him, in advance of its press release, his intention regarding IEAH going drug-free? I mean, seriously. Talk about making an owner look like a fool! Even if it wasn’t an IEAH horse involved, Dutrow should have had the balls to say something; then IEAH could have postponed its declaration until after Kentucky’s announcement, thus more effectively appearing to be proactive about the situation. Instead, IEAH comes off as ridiculous and their primary trainer pathetic.

And then it was announced that perpetual-offender Steve Asmussen has once again had a horse test positive, this time for lidocaine (Timber Trick at Lone Star Park on May 10). A Class 2 drug infraction carries a 6-month suspension—a punishment Asmussen is all-too-familiar with. Prominent owner and defense attorney Maggi Moss has signed on to “vigorously defend” Asmussen, a state of affairs I’m still trying to wrap my brain around. I admire Maggi Moss greatly as a horsewoman who has done a phenomenal job, first with claimers and now moving up to higher-quality stakes horses. I hope her faith in Asmussen is well-founded, and that he has indeed seen the error of his past ways (which aren’t really in the all-too-distance past). I trust that she, as well as Jess Jackson who has also come forward in Asmussen’s defense, will be rewarded for their support, and they aren’t just the latest patsies to close ranks to protect the so-called "good name" of racing.

As the shrewd woman I believe her to be, what I hope Moss does is put testing regulations on public trial, exposing the inequality of them across the various states, and thus leading to further action—namely, innovation and uniformity in testing, as well as the elimination of drugs altogether. And, with two of the biggest owners in his corner, Asmussen had better be innocent.

It’s not that horse racing needed another black mark—compounded with everything else that’s come down this year, I think critical mass has been achieved. Add to the above the virtuous Larry Jones achieving his first drug positive (which I do find highly-suspicious), not to mention all-American boy wonder Jeremy Rose whipping the hell out of poor mare Appeal to the City at Delaware, and this week has definitely put this racing fan in a funk.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to notice that, at least initially, the horse racing press (DRF, Bloodhorse, and Thoroughbred Times) disproportionately emphasized Dutrow’s transgressions over Asmussen’s. This can only be called the “Curlin Factor.” And it’s sickening, as well as hypocritical. Honestly, if any real reform is to be enacted in racing, all parties involved—owners, trainers, jockeys, tracks, fans, and the media—need to get on board. And that means tough, aggressive reporting by the “real” press addressing the tough issues head-on. We don’t need candy-coated “fluff” like the crap ABC shelled out during its Belmont Stakes’ coverage, and we don’t need double-standards.

This is why I gave up being a journalist during my sophomore year in college (except for a brief foray into newspaper feature writing after my PhD and before my first tenure-track job). There is no such thing as real reporting today, in any field let alone horse racing. The news media is nothing more than spin-masters, prostituting themselves to advertisers and the almighty dollar. I get that they are profit-driven, and certainly don’t begrudge anyone making a buck. What I don’t understand is abandoning your integrity and natural inquisitiveness in favor of promoting a specific agenda. If "real" journalists can’t present the issues impartially, then bring on the bloggers who, by the way, increasingly include former mainstream writers no longer indebted in the same way (I hope) to industry insiders. I'm not talking about journalists who now blog for their employers because it's en vogue and they get to feed their egos by dispensing bits of insider information and have people lavish praise upon them for it. My fellow TBA blogger Patrick over at Handride rants here about this issue so I’ll say no more other than trying to rationalize Dutrow’s “rap sheet” as anything other than what it is—a freaking disgrace—is disingenuous. 13 or 72, makes no difference. Dutrow is a bad apple, but by no means the only one. And the time has come to stop being apologists and expose the rot at its core. The question is who has the cohunes to do so?


John said...

Nice work for something posted at 1250 AM and oh so true !!

John said...

Nice work for something posted at 1250 AM and oh so true !!

Sharon Crute said...

Valerie, what an excellent, honest and informed post. Kudos to your awesome writing which speaks volumes to what I want to say, however, I have a censoring angel on one shoulder as so many of the players are my clients. One party you didn't mention in your list of players who need to get on board: veterinarians. Talk about profit driven. Their role in this whole mess is being conspicuously passed over.

Brooklyn Backstretch said...

I actually think Dutrow made a number of interesting points--one of which implicitly made is that the guy just doesn't do well in that sort of spokeperson role. I really paused when he talked about how seldom his horses break down--which doesn't make, certainly, all his med violations OK, but it does indicate a certain bias on the part of the media covering him.

And I've been saying since last year that I found it unbelievable that in all of Curlin's successes, and in Pyro's run to the Derby this year, Asmussen's record was so seldom mentioned. As you note, there's definitely a double standard.

Anonymous said...

Great post!!

"There is no such thing as real reporting today, in any field let alone horse racing. The news media is nothing more than spin-masters, prostituting themselves to advertisers and the almighty dollar."

And don't forget prostituting themselves for access... call me if anyone ever starts to report on what really goes on in this country!

But back to racing, I totally agree that there's a double standard here, but it always makes me uncomfortable/sad to see people confuse the trainer and the horse(s). I wasn't a fan of Big Brown in the beginning and was not thrilled that he won the derby. Part of that had to do with his connects and part of it had to do with the his lightly raced nature. I had the same feelings about Curlin the year before. Big Brown won me over in his Preakness performance, his connections never did. Admittedly Asmussen bothers me less because he's less of a braggart... he doesn't call attention to himself, begging us to wish him ill by being an A-hole. While that's no excuse for a double standard, it might shed some (lame) light.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to be "sorry" that you agree with me, do you?

I'm happy someone else sees it the same I do. Then maybe I'm not completely nuts.

As for the mainstream media and trade press, something I know a little bit about, I found it very interesting to compare the story written yesterday on and compare that with the NY Post and NY Daily News this morning. Rick Dutrow went on a jealousy bender and threw a bunch of people under the bus, but the trade press didn't report it. Daily News and NY Post did, to their credit, because they felt Dutrow should be exposed for who he is. The trade press doesn't want to make waves. Trust me on that. I speak from experience.

Brooklyn Backstretch said...

DRF online included in its article yesterday at least some of Dutrow's under-the-bus-throwing

Anonymous said...

"I really paused when he talked about how seldom his horses break down--which doesn't make, certainly, all his med violations OK, but it does indicate a certain bias on the part of the media covering him."

Interesting that he just made this claim about breakdowns, and this very weekend one of his horses was euthanized after he "raced the five-year-old gelding Unrequited on Friday at Belmont to an unplaced finish then shipping him to Monmouth to run on Sunday and seeing the Jay Em Ess owned horse break down."