I was a horse trainer a few years ago. I did it for about 10 years. I may do it again in the future if I see the industry clean up its act. So far, I have seen none of that. If anything it got worse. Hard to believe I could say that, considering the level of cheating that was going on when I got out. Cheating that was mostly undetected.
I stopped mostly because I realized that you had to cheat--on some level--to win. Most do. Of course, there are grades to that. It is sort of understood by everyone. And unless you are flagrant about it, like Seldon Ledford and some others are, they leave you alone and nobody says anything to anybody unless you are caught redhanded or someone complains and they are forced to do something about it.
It is made very clear to you that if you speak up, you might as well leave the business because you will have no hope when they gang up on you and get you somehow. That is understood.
At a minimum though, that almost always means not acting in the best interest and welfare of the horse. That much I know. I will touch on that later when I get to the main topic of this blog.
Back to my brief training career. I didn't ask for it. I was an owner and my trainer couldn't train the horses anymore. I couldn't find anyone else I could trust, so, reluctantly I did it myself, while I continued to do my day job.
I did well at first. Very well. Won more than my share. And I can guarantee you that I gave nothing to my horses. I didn't even really know what was out there or how to get it. Even if I had, I likely wouldn't have bothered with it.
Then I started to lose. The same horses that I was beating handily started to beat me. The only difference was that they had access to performance enhancers. One guy even claimed a horse off of me and turned him from a grinder who made a cheque every week and won the odd race into a bearcat who won 5 straight and moved sharply up the class ladder while doing it.
And then, that horse dissappeared off the map only to show up a year later racing for less than gas money each week--and not even winning his share of that. This horse was fairly healthy most of the time. Three years later he resurfaced around my area and I claimed him back, at a much lower level than even he had raced for me. I did okay with him again, but he wasn't the same horse. Whatever they had given him right after they had claimed him off of me had eaten away at his insides, more specifically his stomach, and he basically was living on borrowed time. I did the best I could, and he still raced good when the pain wasn't there, but within a few months he was dead. Died a horrible painful death right in front of me.
After doing well for a while, I started to lose to people I knew were not anywhere near as good as me, so I decided to just get out. So far, I have stayed out. On my way in and out, I saw a lot of horses die very painful, horrible deaths. If you have never seen a horse or dog die like this, I hope you don't. It stays with you for a lifetime.
What I also saw when I was training is that there are a lot of factors that go into winning races and keeping winning races.
But the number 1 factor in winning races is the drugs you give and the quality of your vet and his/her willingness to prescribe whatever you tell them to, find the best illegal drugs that you don't ever see on a training bill and his/her willingness to do things that are not in the best interest of the horse., Most times this benefits the owner, and it helps the trainer to build his reputation and image to gain more clients that he can earn his 5 or 10% on. But, it never benefits the horse and many times costs the owner money in the long run.
Enter Bob Baffert. I don't know Bob Baffert. I have never met him and I likely never will. But I have met many like him. Like him in the sense that they admit they do exactly what he admitted to.
What did he admit to?
"Baffert told the investigators that he thought the medication would help “build up” his horses. This came as a surprise because the drug is generally associated with weight loss.
Baffert said he quit using the drug last March after the seventh horse died. At least one study indicated that the drug can cause “cardiac alterations” in horses, the report said."
Notice Baffert's language. He quit using the drug. In other words, he decided the horses needed it, and then decided they didn't when they began dropping dead for no apparent reason.
I thought it was the vets job to decide what meds a horse needed and a trainers job to get him fit and ready to run. I guess that isn't how it works.
No, let me say that again. I know that is not how it works.
Below is another quote from the article link above. This is how it actually works.
"The 26-page report said that Baffert acknowledged directing his veterinarians to use thyroxine on all his horses. Baffert, however, was the one who asked his veterinarians to prescribe it, which is in conflict with the policy of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the industry’s most influential veterinary group, which says treatments “should be based upon a specific diagnosis and administered in the context of a valid and transparent owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship.”
Again, note the language. Should be based on a valid transparent owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship. If you have ever been on the ground level, that isn't how it works.
In reality, trainers control vets and the vets will do whatever the trainer asks. If you don't believe me, listen to what the vet said when he got caught injecting a joint on race day at Tampa Bay with one of Jane Cibelli's horses.
"Association veterinarian Kristen Pastir and veterinary assistant Joelyn Rigione walked by Stall 46 in that same barn around 9:10 a.m. Jan. 27, 2013, just as Paraliticci and his assistant, Marcos Ortiz, were treating Raven Train, who was entered in the afternoon’s second race, a $16,000 claiming event. Paraliticci had Raven Train’s right front leg flexed and was injecting the area near a large nerve by the accessory carpal bone with 3 milliliters of P Bloc – an anti-inflammatory and pain blocker whose principal agent was Sarapin, a natural substance produced by Sarraceniaceae, a pitcher plant.
Jorge Garibay, who worked as a groom for Cibelli, was holding Raven Train by the lead shank while Ortiz had a nose twitch on the horse. Paraliticci, who saw Pastir and Rigione come onto the scene, finished injecting the leg. Then, switching to a larger syringe (30-to-50 cc’s, Pastir estimated), Paraliticci injected what he would later say was a mixture of the anti-bleeder medication furosemide and Solu-Delta-Cortef (a corticosteroid that is permitted on race-day in Florida) into the horse’s shoulder.
Cibelli was not in the barn when Paraliticci was treating Raven Train. After he explained to the trainer what had occurred, the native of England lit into Paraliticci, the veterinarian would later say to investigators with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
“You stupid mother——,” he quoted Cibelli as telling him. “Don’t you involve me. Don’t tell them I had anything to do with it. Keep me out of it. You better hope this stays in house.”
Why would a vet risk his license like that? In reality, his license is worthless to him as a means to make a living if Cibelli has him cut off. She calls the shots. If he injected that horse, it is because he was told to.
There will always be a Jane Cibelli or Bob Baffert. They aren't the problem. They are the symptoms of the underlying problem.
The problem is not the trainers. The problem is the vets who don't follow the rules and get no punishment for that. Vets are scared of trainers like them. Listen to what Paraliticci said when he was interviewed.
"A report by the state investigator said Paraliticci later told him that he is “terrified of Cibelli.” When asked why, he responded that Cibelli and Tampa Bay Downs vice president of marketing Margo Flynn – the trainer’s partner – “have threatened many people with being thrown off the track and being excluded from TBD. They threatened to ruin his business…they have a lot of power.”
Why aren't they revoking the vets license for life? He isn't following the rules. Nobody answers that. He took an oath as a doctor and he has violated that. So has Baffert's vet. I don't see any sanctions against him either.
What would happen if Paraliticci just decided to say no to Cibelli? Or Baffert's vet to him? Or any race track vet to any high powered trainer like them?
Simple. They will lose huge business because of the clout trainers have that those trainers know they have.
If a trainer is asked why he doesn't use this vet anymore, and uses that vet now, and he tells them that he wont give you the juice, or inject that horse on race day, or inject a joint that will basically make that horse a sure winner today and dead within a month or two, then he is basically out of business.
Trainers control vets, not the other way around. That has to change.
How? They have to be stung. That is the only way. The fear of losing your training license forever is the only way to root these types out.
Now, lets be clear. I am not talking about the high end vets, that have their own clinics and are mostly the types to determine lameness and do surgeries. I suppose some of those also do some of this, but mostly, they are a niche market and they make piles of money as it is, so they don't have to.
I am talking about the average race track vet, the one who makes the rounds, gives the injections, injects joints, runs jugs, injects veins, gives lasix. that type of vet.
How does it work and who benefits? The trainer pads his bill with vet work that isn't done, or inflated. The vet makes more, and the trainer gets a kickback on part of that. They call it a rebate to the trainer. It is one big shell game. And once that happens, the trainer has the vet by the throat, and they know it.
Many ask: Why do the trainers do it and how can they sleep at night.
I ask those who ask that question: Do you know anything about these people?
Most do not. If you did, you would know that most of them are very hard working people. Honest. They don't want to cheat. They want to do it on the up and up.
I have an education and money and options. I could easily get out. They cannot. It is all they can do and know how to do. When you realize you either cheat to stay in that game or you will be in for some serious hard times, most panic and cheat.
Back towards the end of my training career, I knew of a guy who was very honest. His family had been in the horse training game for at least two generations. He is and was a good guy. He had a young family and he was making his way. He was successful enough for a while, but then his numbers began to slip. He didn't need a map to figure out why. They had the juice and he didn't. But he knew where to get it.
And where was that?
The top guy who was always cheating and getting away with it was also a master chemist. He had his own lab on his property and he knew exactly what to give and get away with it. He also was willing to sell it to certain people for a fee. He didn't tell you what it was, and you would never be stupid enough to say where you got it. He told you how to use it and when not to use it. It was called "the clear" and you paid him $5,000 at certain intervals to get it.
This young trainer got caught in a sting and luckily for him, they screwed up and the evidence was inadmissable. But before that, he had admitted to the whole thing.
You either go along or you lose. Those are your choices. But what if you can't afford to lose? If so, then you have nothing to lose by cheating.
Unless you get that horse that is so good that it doesn't matter. But how many get that horse? And if they do, how many get two of them?
Trainers and vets aren't separate entities. They work together in a business relationship. And in most of them, the trainer needs the vet to succeed, but the trainer is the boss. He can pull the plug and fire you, go to another vet, and pretty much put you out of business.
When it comes to medications and injections, trainers are the actual vets.
Vets are pharmacists. Trainers place an order, vets fill it.
If the vets wont, the trainer will just go to another pharmacy.
Until that changes, nothing will change. Trainers will cheat. Horses will drop dead. Vets will be pharmacists and a few people will get caught every now and then while most get away with it and claim they are clean.
What are the racing officials doing while all this goes on? They are busy figuring out how to raise the admission price to tracks that less and less people are going to anyway because they can't be bothered figuring out who are the inmates and who are the guards.
And in the year 2014, a whole lot more horses will just drop dead from the latest drug they don't need prescribed by trainers who never got a degree and supplied by vets who ignore their oath and sanctioned by racing commissions who don't think there is anything wrong with any of that.