What To Do With *Alleged* Cheaters?

Robert Cianflone

I am the kind of handicapper that really trusts trainer win percentages. But every time I see a trainer north of 30 percent, I worry that syringes are involved even as I play the horse. And then sometimes, some proof crops up that a syringe was involved. And what happens? The trainer moves elsewhere...is there a way to fix this?

In an article posted last week on PaulickReport.com, a vet caught in the act of injecting a Jane Cibelli-trained horse on race day has been suspended 90 days and has said he will cooperate with the on-going investigation, and potential prosecution of, parties involved.

This is how I know I love horses. I read this, and I got seething angry, probably because I have a lot of filmmaker/storyteller in me, and I frequently try to inhabit scenes that I read about. No, now that I think about it, I got angry about this precisely because I think this way.

So, when I read:

Raven Train was scheduled to compete in a $16,000 claiming event on Jan. 27. When an examining veterinarian working for Tampa Bay Downs approached the horse’s stall, Paraliticci allegedly was inside, with a vet assistant and a groom, injecting a knee, which is not permitted under Florida regulations for horses entered to race. A sign on the horse’s stall indicated he was to race later that day.

It might easily become:

Ext-- Horse Stall--Day

Raven Train sways in his stall as the weary-looking groom holds him around the neck and gently pats him. Two men in labcoats feel one of the horse's knees. They look at each other. One quickly kneels and rummages through a bag at his feet, producing a sleek black case. From it, he pulls a syringe, and a vial full of a clear liquid.

Labcoat #1

You know where the trainer is?

Labcoat #2

No. Should be here by now.

Labcoat #1

Well, hurry.

Labcoat #2 draws the fluid into the syringe. Labcoat #1 holds one of the horse's legs still, while Labcoat #2 injects it. Raven Train snorts, and whinnies.

Groom

There, there, old boy.

Labcoat #1

Hurry, someone's coming.

Pre-Race Vet

Hey!?! What the hell are you all doing? Does the trainer know about this?

Groom

Awww, shit

Pre-Race Vet

Well, this horse is scratched. And I need all of your names. And leave that syringe right there.

Now, let's say I am directing this scene. Paramount to its truth is the fact that each of the three people in that stall knows they are doing something wrong. Each has made that first, subtle agreement with his conscience: that it is just a little bit of cheating, that will widen from the initial leak of Folly to the eventual flood of Fallen. And the innocent party is the animal, who has no way of protecting himself from his caregivers.

And then I read this:

At the time of the incident, Cibelli was winning at a 39% rate at Tampa Bay Downs (13 wins from 33 starts). Her win percentage dropped considerably thereafter through the balance of the meeting. She won eight of her next 56 starts. Near the end of the Tampa Bay meeting, Cibelli moved her stable to Monmouth Park in New Jersey, where she was leading trainer during the summer of 2011 and 2012.

She is currently 0-for-16 at the 2013 Monmouth Park meeting and a combined 0- for-27 at Monmouth, Belmont Park, Parx, Penn National, and Pimlico since leaving Tampa Bay Downs.

So, a woman who was winning 39 percent of her entries suddenly hasn't won in 27 starts, even as she was just allowed to pick up and move away from what may turn out to be a long-term haunting? Has there ever been a stronger case of circumstantial evidence? This seems to me an insurmountable problem. With little or no reciprocity between regulating agencies or states, how do you reign in the rogue trainers that have made that fatal concession to winning through ill-gotten means? At least when a human athlete decides to cheat, he knows what he is doing to himself. It is so much worse to me, so infuriating, that there are trainers out there who would put a horse at risk to win at any level, let alone a low-level Claiming race.

Again, I return to the thought of my fictional scene, and the directions I would give the actors. To the groom: "You regret. Your action verb is 'regret.'" To the labcoats: "How do you sleep? You have betrayed your profession, your innocent patient, your self. You conceal your guilt." And to the Pre-Race Vet: "people that do this disgust you. Your verb is 'confront.'"

And if it were a movie, we could get to a happy ending, right? An ending where none of this nefarious crap is part of the game we love.

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