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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fanning the Flames

Apparently, we silly bloggers (or pundits, if you will) are over-reacting. When trainer Jeff Mullins is caught red-handed giving Air Power via oral syringe to Gato Go Win in the detention barn at Aqueduct, it’s not technically cheating—because saintly Michael Matz endorses this over-the-counter product which promises it “won’t test positive in any race or show jurisdiction”? The race day medication rules in New York are crystal clear, yet we should believe the oft-caught cheater Mullins when he publically declares it was an “honest mistake”? Kind of reminds me of the story of the boy who cried “wolf!”—if you do it often enough, no one will believe you are sincere. And, lo, the list of Mullins’ previous infractions is lengthy, as are the first-hand accounts of associates and others who attest to him being ethically-challenged.

As an educator, I regularly deal with the ethical issue of “cheating”—particularly this time of year, as final exams and papers are right around the corner. Admittedly, we are not talking about the same beast, but fundamentally there is a clear boundary that exists in both instances. “Cheating” does not necessary entail “nefarious intent.” Often times, cheating is a matter of desperation, but I’ve come to realize that for some students it is a matter of doing so because it’s easy, and they can get away with it. Rules don’t apply to them, mostly because their parents instilled in them, either deliberately or inadvertently, a sense of entitlement. Yet, when cornered, they often plead ignorance—“you never told us that cutting and pasting passages from Wikipedia into our paper wasn’t allow.” Unfortunately, I’m serious. So, Mullins figured because he gained access to the barn carrying the syringe and medication it was perfectly acceptable to use it. Astonishing!

Most disturbingly in the aforementioned criticism aimed at bloggers this week, because we discuss—passionately—this type of situation on the blogosphere, somehow we are contributing to horse racing’s public relations problem? I have a real problem with that kind of thinking.

When I began this blog two years ago, it was because I had no other outlet to discuss my passion for horse racing, as none of my friends, family or colleagues has more than a passing interest in the sport. You, dear reader, you are my people! If you have discovered this blog within the abyss that is the World Wide Web, then we are of like mind—we are passionate about what was once known as the "Sport of Kings." We can respectfully disagree on specific issues, yet we never presume to stifle the right to put forth educated opinions or comments. That’s the beauty of public discourse in this technological age.

Horse racing doesn’t need we bloggers to give it a black eye. Through its archaic attitudes and insular fiefdoms, general (and pervasive) lack of respect for horseplayers and fans through high take-out rates and lack of free access to the most basic past performance information, tolerance of medicinal abuse by successful trainers backed by wealthy hedge fund investors and disbarred lawyers convicted of scamming clients, stories of horrific animal abuse by prominent owners and collusive tolerance for broken down claimers sent quietly to slaughter—the sport is doing a fine job of self-destruction.

As you might infer from this diatribe, I’m angry and disgusted. Nay, I’m officially pissed. Why do we tolerate cheaters and abusers, those who openly taunt the rules? Does it really all come down to the power of the all-mighty dollar? If so, then I must concur with my fellow TBA blogger Patrick over at Handride, and say I’m out.

That said, I am ever the optimist, so I still hold out hope that—before breeching the event horizon and officially imploding, going the way of the dinosaur as a relic of history—someone, or more specially a group of people, will step forward and do what needs to be done. No, not paying lip-service to doing the right thing, but officially taking the bull by the horns, biting the bullet, by hook or by crook—or whatever tired idiom you wish to use—and right this sinking ship.

If only I didn’t love this damn sport so much...


Teresa said...

Interesting comparison, Val, and one I've pondered these last few days, too, as I've thought about the responsibility for this incident. As an educator, one of the steps I've taken is to make sure that my students can never say, "We didn't know that..." My expectations for their honesty are perfectly clear from day 1, in writing. I wonder whose responsibility it is for making sure the rules are known--do the trainers ask each time they get to a new track (akin to putting the responsibility on the student with each teacher), or are the tracks providing that information as a matter of course to every shipper on the grounds (the teacher providing that information)?

Do you know how it works at tracks?

Anonymous said...

That is a very good column. Mullins has been a suspicious character for a long time. It's time for him and his ilk to exit racing. He's had enough chances. And the same with the rest of the trainers who continually flaunt the rules. How could anyone who has even a peripheral knowledge of racing not be aware of the rules regarding the detention barn used by NYRA? If that was an honest mistake, then Mullins is too stupid to be training thoroughbred race horses, and if it wasn't then he is too unethical. Unfortunately, he has one of the most charismatic 3 yr olds going into the Derby.
By the by, who is blaming the bloggers? I haven't seen anything that blames the bloggers for the most recent Mullins incident or the unspeakable shit going on with that card carrying asshole Paragello. No one with an ounce of a sense of justice is blaming the bloggers for this crap. The bloggers don't give racing a black eye, the racing industry has a slew of idiots willing and able to do that without any help from the bloggers.

Patrick J Patten said...

Thanks for the link, you mind if I copy this post into my blog and take credit for it? Is that ok? ;-D

Valerie Grash said...

Teresa, I think you have hit upon exactly the reason why the sport needs uniformity in rules, regulations and practices. Then there could be no excuses for ignorance (only stupidity).

Anon: Unfortunately, it has been removed, but it was Seth Morrow at Equidaily who put my panties in a wad, so to speak. Perhaps a cached version of his site would reveal the offending post.

Patrick: only if you don't credit it me, or just call me "blogger" :)

dana said...

You can find Equidaily's commentary by searching for Equidaily on google and visiting the cached version, but that won't last for long.

Here's the content of his commentary:


We agree with blogger Jessica Chapel -- we, as pundit, insiders, or simply fans, can't complain about racing getting bad press if we're fanning the flames. And the Mullins detention barn incident seems to be garnering more negative reaction than it perhaps deserves.

Below are shots from the Finish Line Products catalog -- makers of Air Power, the "horse cough medicine" product that Jeff Mullins was allegeding using in the detention barn at Aqueduct on Saturday. You can see that trainer Michael Matz endorses the product.

So, while pundits and the blogoshpere are painting the weekend incident as another black-eye for racing, with implications of nefarious intent -- the questions that haven't been answered are: How prevalent is the use of this product? And, is it OK for raceday use in other jurisdictions?

If other trainers use this product, and, if it's used elsewhere on raceday, then it's hard to consider this an act of "cheating" as opposed to a sloppy understanding of the rules of the detention barn -- something that certainly deserves attention and discipline from the proper authorities, but which needs to be kept in proper perspective.

Not every violation of the rules is "cheating" and if we who follow the sport closely can't make the distinction than we become part of the bad PR problem for racing rather than part of the solution. Nefarious activity -- or the attempt to engage in such -- deservedly brings a black cloud over the sport. But every rules violation doesn't necessarily involve nefarious intent and it's up to us to make sure the differences are apparent to those who don't follow the sport regularly.

Allan said...

As someone from the standardbred side of the sport we too have the same problems. If racing does not clean up its act, PETA will. Think not? Look at greyhound racing in Massachussets and other locations.

Janine said...

Even Finish Line says Mullins was wrong:

Janine said...

Shorter link to TTimes article posted above:

rather rapid said...

While I like the post and that the issues raised, i think the post is a misreading of the situation in the sport, a fairly gross one at that.

John said...

That's some pretty fine citizen journalism, no doubt articulating the feelings of many.

Superfecta said...

Brilliant commentary. Says it all.

Cangamble said...

I was a little perturbed by Equidaily's comments.
If it wasn't for us prize fighting bloggers, the sport would sewer at a much faster rate than it is sewering in my not so humble opinion.

dana said...

I agree with some of what Seth said and most, if not all, of what you said but I have to say that generally speaking, I find the "bloggers vs. Seth" thing to be discouraging, to say the least.

Again, this generally speaking, not aimed at you or anyone in particular. After all, who here as a blogger didn't feel at least little annoyed with him if not outright mad? Yet I've reread his commentary several times (posted above) and he hasn't taken a single shot at anyone, he's simply stated his point of view which anyone is free to agree or disagree with. Replies to his commentary haven't return that favor.

I suppose in part we're all products of the "us against them" naming calling polarized culture we live in... somehow in this country it's become too difficult to disagree with out taking things personally, and I can't help but be bummed out about that.

Valerie Grash said...

Dana, I honestly did not intend to make this some kind of attack against Seth (who I have no feelings about one way or another)—his commentary simply provided a perfect vehicle for framing a rebuttal.

Even if folks did not (like one anonymous commenter) know of whom I was addressing, the message is the same—some believe in a more kumbaya attitude, while others get pissed and verbalize that. For me, there is simply no justification for breaking the rules, regardless of whether or not the medication supplied to the horse was legal or not. Suggesting those of like mind do not have a “proper perspective” is incredibly disrespectful—kind of along the lines of never giving proper credit to “blogger” posts with the author’s real name. Okay, so that bugs me! :) I have no problem calling out people when I take exception to what they say—and while he may not have taken a single shot at an individual, there was definitely a massive missile aimed at those in general who prefer to verbalize their frustrations and anger at what’s going on in this sport rather than remain passive.

Kevin said...

"I find the 'bloggers vs. Seth' thing to be discouraging, to say the least." I agree with Dana on this -- doesn't make any sense to me. Is it really that offensive that he refers to bloggers as bloggers? C'mon...we aren't marching against civil rights here. Lighten up!

I understand your passion but have to disagree with your notion (made in a comment) that: "...some believe in a more kumbaya attitude, while others get pissed and verbalize that..." Is it really that black and white? I sure hope not... I like to think that a happy medium exists somewhere.

Mullins is stupid and arrogant (a deadly combo) but the latest incident has a little more gray area then his previous offenses. I think that is all Seth was trying to say... two cents.

dana said...

"there was definitely a massive missile aimed at those in general who prefer to verbalize their frustrations and anger at what’s going on in this sport rather than remain passive"

I guess we have a different interpretation as I didn't see it that way. What I think is interesting about his point of view, and in general about what's going on, is that the reactions whether from bloggers, commenters or tweeters seem to be more of a response to both Mullins' general shadiness & record + being fed up with no one ever being punished vs. the actual event, which is not nothing but also not THAT outrageous.

For the record, I'd like to see every single Mullins, Paragallo, etc permanently banned. I also don't buy the "I didn't know routine" and hope the stewards don't wuss out. But I just didn't see his point of view as an attack, albeit it certainly is a great framing device for all your great points!

I also agree with Kevin re: it not being as black and white as "...some believe in a more kumbaya attitude, while others get pissed and verbalize that...". Sure, those two poles exist but there's also a lot in the middle. Was that kumbaya-ish? lol!

Dylan Thomas said...

I'll admit I'm finding it incredibly discouraging to live in a culture where those at the top of their profession, be it banking or training, seem to be either amazingly stupid or disappointingly unethical ... and society's only response seems to be a shrug.

Perhaps we are all becoming more forgiving, and perhaps it's a sign of growth and maturity that we are so willing to grant the benefit of doubt to the incompetent and criminal.

However, I can't help but find it encouraging when one of us dares to say "I will not go gentle into that good night" and takes a stand for competence and integrity whether it be in a classroom or a detention barn.

Thanks for reminding us that cheating is cheating, and it's wrong, no matter the intent -- and it should have consequences.

Anonymous said...

Personally knowing Mullins, I can't believe he didn't know about not being able to use Air Power in the detention barn. I was under the impression, HE KNOWS EVERYTHING!!!! I would add this to the original article we are commenting on. When are we all going to make a stand against the wimpy officials that just keep winking and turning away with a measly fine. They need to move on down the road. Maybe they should try making a living with a couple of horses for awhile. Stable them right across from a guy that the runs the tube 2 hours before the race, blocks the throat, goes straight into the esophagus before the race, got some EPO going. How do you feel X racing official when you hit the top of the lane head and head with that guy and all you got is 2 bute pills the day before? Kinda used? Just fodder to fill a race with for this other guy? Well now you know how the rest of us feel. Think how the poor horses feel!! Now you know why we are disgusted with your pathetic ideas of penalties.

Teresa said...

The biggest problem with the reaction to the Mullins thing that I see is the knee-jerk "He's a cheater" stance. As an educator who also works in the discipline side of a school, I learned--sometimes the hard way--that no matter what I fervently believe to be true, I've got to wait until the full story comes out before I can decide what I think, or determine a response.

And while making a mistake doesn't mean that someone isn't responsible for his behavior, and it doesn't mean that there shouldn't be consequences, it also doesn't mean that someone is deliberately cheating.

The stridency in some of the initial writing about this incident seemed a little too eager to me to determine what happened before any investigation had been completed--or maybe even started.

the Source of the James said...

"The stridency in some of the initial writing about this incident seemed a little too eager to me to determine what happened before any investigation had been completed--or maybe even started".

Will all due respect to Mr. Mullins defenders, this guy is responsible for a horse considered to be one of the top contenders in what most folks say is the most important equine event in the United States.

He may or may not have known what the rules are in New York, but he surely knew the damage to the horse racing community caused by the antics of another trainer playing fast and loose with drugs and a high profile horse last year.

I don't know if Mullins is "technically" guilty of actually drugging his horses or not, but he is certainly guilty of having sullied whatever glory I Want Revenge might accomplish come the first Saturday in May.
He certainly could have kept it in his pants for at least 4 weeks. The decision to choose not too was his and his alone, and he knew exactly what he was doing.

dana said...

TVNewsBadge - I don't read Teresa as a "Mullins Defender" and I certainly hope no one has read my comments as defending him. What I was trying to point out was the unfortunate "us vs. them" that has emerged out of this situation, no doubt in part due to the ongoing frustration of fans and players that cheaters never seem to pay.

The fact that we can't discuss grey areas without being branded kumbaya wusses, just shrugging it off or Mullins defenders is still a disappointing head scratcher to me.

Teresa said...

As Dana has expressed, I am no Mullins defender or apologist, and I'm not sure how suggesting that waiting until an investigation is completed would suggest that I am.

the Source of the James said...

If anyone feel Mr. Mullins is being treated unfairly here, I'd suggest they consider what the reaction would have been if he had been caught putting this Air Power down the throat of I Want Revenge.