Bob Baffer trainer of Bodemeister. Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun.

If I’ll Have Another wins the Triple Crown should it be denoted with an asterisk?

Bob Baffer trainer of Bodemeister. Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun.
Bodemeister trainer Bob Baffert besieged by media prior to the 2012 Preakness. Had his horse won the Kentucky Derby or Preakness would the press be headlining his numerous drug violations as they are with Doug O’Neill who trains potential Triple Crown winner I’ll Have Another? Image by KENNETH K. LAM, Baltimore Sun.

As Barry Bonds neared Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, the media questioned whether Bonds’ record — if he and when he broke Aaron’s — should be denoted with an asterisk due to his alleged steroid usage. It garnered a lot of attention for a long time, and tarnished the image of Major League Baseball.

Affirmed, under Steve Cauthen, is the last horse to win the Triple Crown. The year, 1978.

If I’ll Have Another wins horse racing’s Triple Crown in 2012, should it be denoted with an asterisk because of trainer Doug O’Neill’s alleged penchant for cheating with a variety of drugs? I say no.

In the case of I’ll Have Another and all equine athletes, they do not have a choice about the drugs and/or therapies they are subjected to. Their human equivalent does. Why tarnish the horse’s record?

Plus, nothing suggests that I’ll Have Another has done anything but win because of sheer talent and determination. At least not yet. But if anything were proved, then put an asterisk by the trainer’s name and take the prize money away from the owner.

It is sad that I’ll Have Another’s gritty quest for the Triple Crown is overshadowed by O’Neill’s disgusting record of drug violations. O’Neill is hardly alone in the chase to win Triple Crown races.

What if the Bob Baffert-trained Bodemeister had hung on to win either or both of the first two legs of the Triple Crown? What would the headlines be reading then? My guess is little or nothing. Is that because Baffert is a media darling, or because he recently survived a heart attack and it would have been less than sporting to mention his history of drug violations alongside O’Neill’s?

Joe Drape, whose dogged exposés of racehorse doping populate the pages of the New York Times about this time every year, may have called Baffert out. In a report Drape filed for the Times in 2010, he provides the following table of information.

REPEAT OFFENDERS

Frequency of drug violations for horses of the top-earning trainers
in the United States (2010)
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/sports/04racing.html

Trainer Starts as of
Oct 26, 2010
Starts Per
Medication
Violation
Jamie Ness 4,349 217
Richard Dutrow Jr. 6,174 343
Bob Baffert 9,297 465
John Sadler 10,983 478
W. Bret Calhoun 7,882 525
Kiaran McLaughlin 4,262 710
Doug O’Neill 8,872 807
Michael Maker 2,650 883
Jerry Hollendorfer 24,452 978
Steve Asmussen 26,619 986
Dale Romans 8,628 1,438
Thomas Amoss 9,709 1,618
Anthony Dutrow 5,935 1,978
Mark Casse 8,214 2,054
Todd Pletcher 12,063 2,413
William Mott 19,551 2,444
Nick Zito 13,394 4,465
Roger Attfield 9,123 4,562
Christophe Clement 5,973 0
Graham Motion 7,659 0

There are more than a few Kentucky Derby and Preakness trainers in that table. Among them are the extremely naughty Rick Dutrow, Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen and Dale Romans.

Do these numbers really matter insofar as how many times, when or by whom? Yes. It indicates just how much illegal tampering with racehorses dominates this sport.

What is extremely important to note about this table is that it lists top-earning racehorse trainers who have been cited with drug violations. The fact that Christophe Clement and Graham Motion, who are to be saluted for having zero, does not mean that they race their horses drug free. US horse racing allows many types of drugs which varies state to state, and the reason the industry is involved in heated debates on what to allow and what not to, particularly on race day, as it becomes under ever increasing scrutiny.

Why bettors spend hours, weeks or perhaps even months handicapping horse races seems a useless exercise to me, unless they have figured out a way to calculate the impact of doping. Fixing horse races has been around since the early days of the sport. Fixing horse races — such as cheating with injury-masking drugs or performance-enhancing concoctions such as “milkshakes” — isn’t that illegal?

Which brings us back to Doug O’Neill. There are those in horse racing who sneeringly claim he “milkshaked” his way to the top. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

RELATED READING

The Chemical Horse, by Jane Allin, Int’l Fund for Horses

3 thoughts on “If I’ll Have Another wins the Triple Crown should it be denoted with an asterisk?”

  1. You’re right Vivian. I’ll Have Another shouldn’t be penalized for his trainer’s bad behavior. Personally, I’m ready for a new era where race horses start their careers at 3 instead of 2. That would mean 4-year-olds in the Triple Crown, but, so far, I haven’t been able to find an actual “law” against it. Just “rules”, which should be revised for the benefit of the real stars of the show … the equine athletes.

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  2. I totally agree with you, Vivian. The horse has absolutely no choice, whether to run, whether to be drugged, etc. Why should the mark go against the horse? Hit the owner with the money; take away the purse AND a fine, and place the negative denotations against the trainer, not the horse.

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