Thursday, July 23, 2015

Zero Tolerance Punishing Doing the Right Thing

(This piece is also published in our on-line publication, Midwest Paddock Report, as an editorial)

Legendary Minneapolis Star-Tribune sports writer Patrick Reusse penned a column today detailing the possible suspension of Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Mac Robertson by the state stewards and the Minnesota Racing Commission for a positive drug test. 

Before I get rolling I want to make a few things clear.  Mac Robertson and I are not friends.  We’re really not even acquaintances.  In the three years that I covered Canterbury for the Daily Racing Form, I would say that I maybe spoke to him twice – he’s not fond of publicity and I’m pretty sure he’s not fond of reporters either.
Robertson has also never trained for us.

Basically what I’m saying is that we’ve never had any kind of relationship that would make me a ‘Robertson apologist’ of any kind.
The horse, Purest Form, tested positive for 74 picograms of Methamphetamine.  This is 74 TRILLIONTH of a gram.  Given that two former employees were later proven to be meth users and the minuteness of the drug in the horse’s system, logic would dictate that one of these two people were in contact with the horse, or its feed, at some point, generating the horse’s exposure.

Logic, however, is never a factor in ‘zero tolerance’ policies. 
So much of society is a “gotcha” culture.  Goals have changed from level playing fields and one set of rules for all, to how can we catch someone doing anything and then crow about how tough we are on the alleged rulebreakers.   We can pat ourselves on the back and talk about how the industry is “doing the right thing”.  It really matters very little what is right or true, only that someone can take credit for ridding the sport of these miscreants.

These days no one wants to know the truth.  It’s only he accusation that matters - and gets noticed.  The “gotcha”.  Doing the right thing does not.  Exoneration does not. The truth does not.
Except the truth DOES matter.  An explanation should matter.  Robertson took this minute positive very seriously.  He subjected his staff to a random drug test to try and determine the cause of the contamination.  He took action when meth users were found in his employ.  Given the level in the horse and fact that two people around the horse were meth users, it is a certainty that environmental contamination is to blame.  The system worked, right?  Trainer with a sterling reputation finds that something went sideways. He then does the right thing and helps to police the sport he loves, protecting horses, riders and employees along the way.

Zero tolerance though, baby.  Get the chemists out of the sport. 
A suspension is coming.  A similar situation last year with lesser known trainer Luis Canchari garnered him a 90-day suspension and a $2,000 fine when his horse, Smart Masterpiece, was also found with trace amounts of meth in its system after a race.  The precedent has been set.  I don’t see where the Stewards have any wiggle room.

The Minnesota Racing Commission does though.  This suspension will certainly make its way before them and they will have the opportunity to inject common sense into the process and look at the big picture to determine what happened, why and the negligible effect it had on the horse and the race.  Let’s not punish a trainer for learning the truth and doing the right thing in an instance where there was no competitive advantage gained.
It is possible to be tough on drug cheats as well as do the right thing.

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