Horse Racing Ethics: Justify Was A Fake Triple Crown Winner. Now What?

The term “horse racing ethics” is justly regarded as an oxymoron, and the stunning scandal revealed yesterday shows why.

The U.S. Thoroughbred Racing Triple Crown is one of the most prestigious achievements in all of sports. The three races that make up the Triple Crown, all competed in by three-year-old horses, are the Kentucky Derby, run over the 1 1⁄4-mile dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; the Preakness Stakes, run over the 1 3⁄16-mile (1.9 km) dirt track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland; and
the Belmont Stakes, run over the 1 1⁄2-mile (2.4 km) dirt track (the longest in U.S. thoroughbred racing) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

The first Triple Crown winner was Sir Barton in 1919, and there have been only twelve since, among them the most fabled names in the sport: War Admiral, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, Secretariat, Affirmed. Winning the Triple Crown is a bonanza for the sport as well as the owner of the victorious horse, which will eventually demand huge stud fees. After Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, no horse achieved that pinnacle for 37 years. Then, finally, American Pharaoh  broke the drought in 2015. A filly out of that Triple Crown winner recently sold for a record $8.2 million. The Triple Crown is a big deal; in thoroughbred racing, there is no bigger deal.

The thoroughbred racing world only had to wait three years for another super-champion this time: Justify won the Triple Crown in 2018. Now we know, however,  that the horse was an illicit competitor, and should have been disqualified. This is approximately the horse racing equivalent of  gamblers rigging baseball’s World Series in 1919, a scandal that almost destroyed the sport.

This week we learned, courtesy of a New York Times investigation, that  Justify had tested positive for the banned drug scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, 2018. That win qualified the horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, one month later, in which he would be a likely favorite to win. Behind closed doors, the California Horse Racing Board first stalled on acting, then decided to dismiss the case after the colt went on to win the Triple Crown. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/13/2019: Rhode Island On My Mind Edition

 

Providence, Rhode Island

Good morning!

I’m heading up to Little Rhodey in a few hours to once again collaborate with my brilliant Ethics Rock musician Mike Messer before the Rhode Island Bar, as well as to try to back about 7 hours of legal ethics and technology commentary into a 75 minute break-out session.

1. Once again, law vs ethics.The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld those lame duck laws the GOP legislature passed to hamstring the new Democratic Governor. It is the correct decision. The measures were unethical, but legal, just like Mitch McConnell’s gambit to refuse giving Merrick Garland a hearing, just like Harry Reid’s “reconciliation” maneuver to get the amended Affordable Care Act passed without having to send it  back to the House.

2. Correct, but futile.  From the Washington Post: Continue reading

Breaking Ethics News! Ethics Heroes: The Churchill Downs Stewards

The New York Times reports:

The speedy Maximum Security, the only undefeated horse in the field, appeared to win the 145th Kentucky Derby at rain-soaked Churchill Downs to keep his streak intact, but an objection lodged by what appeared to be the second- and third-place finishers (Country House at 65-1 and Code of Honor at 14-1) led to his disqualification. After a tense objection period that lasted several minutes, after the apparent winning connections had already been interviewed on live television, the stewards made the nearly impossible decision to disqualify Maximum Security.

During the long waiting period, NBC sports commentators and other noted that in a normal race, and not the most famous and prestigious horse race in the sport, the winner would be disqualified over such a clear foul. But, they cautioned, no Deby winner in the hisrory of the race had ever lost after a foul claim, and—I thought this was ominous–the stewards knew it was important that the “best horse wins.” Maximum Security was by consensus the best horse in the field, but rules are rules.

Integrity won the Kentucky Derby this year.

Mid-Day Ethics Refreshment, 6/12/2018: “Ethics Isn’t A Horse Race, It’s A Marathon” Edition

Good afternoon…

1. Culture rot symptoms. Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable and shameful for the owner of a losing horse in a Triple Crown race to claim that dirty tactics have affected the outcome. That, however, was before the loser of the 2016 Presidential election did the equivalent sour grapes act, loudly and continuously. This is how important cultural ethics norms fall off in chunks.

Justify becoming the only undefeated Triple Crown champion after Seattle Slew as he won the Belmont Stakes was immediately smeared  by Mike Repole, co-owner of fourth-place Vino Rosso and last-place Noble Indy. He didn’t claim Russian collusion, just equine collusion.

“Justify is a super horse. He is a Triple Crown winner and he’s undefeated,” said Repole “But I can see the stewards looking into this over the next couple of days. I probably expect them to look into reckless riding by Florent and bring him in to question him about what he was thinking and what his tactics were.”  He accused jockey Florent Geroux of riding Restoring Hope, Justify’s stablemate, to clear the way for Justify to win the race.

“It definitely seemed to me [Restoring Hope] was more of an offensive lineman than a racehorse trying to win the Belmont,” Repole told reporters, “and Justify was a running back trying to run for a touchdown.” Nice. the complaint instantly became the main story of the race, before Justify’s jockey and owners were able to bask in the rare accomplishment for a day or two. Ironically, Repole’s own Vino Rosso was assisted by similar “lineman” tactics by another horse, Noble Indy, like Vino Rosso trained by Todd Pletcher. Concludes racing expert Pat Forde,  “It’s almost certainly why Noble Indy was entered. Basically, Pletcher’s two-horse racing tactic simply ran up against a better two-horse racing tactic.”

And the tactic is legal. Never mind. Graceful losing is on the way out, thanks to our politicians.

2. He gets it, and he doesn’t even read Ethics Alarms! The Ethiopian cabbie who drove me home from the morning mandatory legal ethics seminar that I teach every month for newly-minted D.C. lawyers spent that first half of the trip complaining about President Trump. Then he said, “Now, I didn’t vote for him, but I respect him. I respect him because he is the President of my country, and my fellow citizens elected him. I can complain about him to you, because you are an American too. If a foreigner gets in my cab, however, and starts insulting the President, I pull over and order him out.” Continue reading

Ethic Dunce: California Chrome Owner Steve Coburn*

horses-assAs you probably know by now, California Chrome attempted to become the 12th horse and first since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown and join a fabled group that includes such esteemed equines as Gallant Fox, Whirlaway, Citation and Secretariat…and fell right on his long face, finishing fourth. The  winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness lost the Belmont Stakes to 9-1 long-shot Tonalist, who did not run the opening two races of the series. Ah, there’s the rub. Part of the challenge of the Triple Crown, a not insubstantial part,  is that it is an endurance test. CC lost to a fresher horse.

Well, you know, that’s why winning the Triple Crown is so special and the horses who achieved it are the sport of racing’s four-footed immortals. It’s hard. When your horse loses the final and most difficult (it’s longer) of the three races after winning the first two, as many horses have, the correct, classy and ethical response is well established. It doesn’t take any imagination. You say that you congratulate the winning stables, the owners, the horse and the jockey, that of course you are disappointed, that your horse ran the best race he could but on this day it was not good enough. Then you shut up, and let sportswriters make excuses for the loss, if there are excuses to be made. Continue reading

Triple Crown Ethics: New York Racing Gets An Integrity Check

affirmed.1The best example of the ethical problem with the Star Syndrome, the expedient and destructive compromise organizations make to allow a high-level performer break rules and indulge in conduct that would not be tolerated in other employees, that I have seen in a long time involves…a horse.

California Chrome has won the first two races in the Triple Crown, with only the Belmont Stakes remaining. Horse racing hasn’t had a Triple Crown winner in decades, and has suffered as a result; everyone is rooting for its latest star to finally achieve the heights last reached by Affirmed in 1978. But CC used a nasal strip in his last six races, all victories, and while the devices, which aid breathing, are allowed by the racing rules of all states but one, New York, home of the Belmont, is the one. The owners of the horse say they may not run him if he isn’t allowed to use the strip (they are almost certainly bluffing, but its a good bluff); a request for an exception is pending.

The ethics here is simple as pie. If its a valid rule, then no exception should be made just because the horse in question is on the verge of making history. If it was an arbitrary rule, it should have been eliminated before now.  If the stewards allow California Chrome to use the strip because, well, he’s a big shot and it will be a shot in the arm for racing, but then go back to prohibiting ordinary horses to use it, that will be an outright rejection of fairness and integrity (not that this will be news flash for racing critics.).

If the rule was a good one in the first place, then it should apply to California Chrome. Waiving it just for him is favoritism, and unethical.

That, however, is exactly what will happen. Watch.