Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)
Merriam-Webster, the definition of cheating is to influence or lead by deceit,
trick or artifice; to violate the rules dishonestly. I am often surprised by
what an athlete or team will subject themselves to in order to cheat. The
creativity and the effort that can go into hiding the wrongdoing is almost as
significant as the hard work that brings a team to be successful. However, if
cheating is what made a team become successful, we can then ask the question,
“would that person or team have ever been as successful if they were not
many fans, competitive racing has become synonymous with cheating. Competitors
are always in search of an “edge,” and sometimes in some of the most creative
ways possible. To a normal person, the thought of exchanging every drop of your
blood to rid your body of the natural acids created as a result of physical
output sounds insane. However, to athletes driven by their peers, fear of loss,
greed, and above all, the competitive will to win, this just sounds like an
undetectable way to give them an advantage.
Below are just
some of the more publicized occurrences of competitors trying to find their
Cycling's Tour de France:
- 2005 Lance Armstrong: Admitted to doping while racing to victory for seven
Flloyd Landis: Convicted of doping during Tour, surrendered title to Oscar
Alberto Contador: Tested positive of doping, surrendered title to Andy Schleck
Ben Johnson: Admitted to taking steroids while setting 100m world record in
Olympic Games. Surrendered gold medal to Carl Lewis
2007, Marion Jones: Admitted to taking steroids during the 2000
Olympics. Surrendered all medals won, and served six months in jail not for
cheating, but for lying while under oath about her cheating.
Godolphin: Trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was caught doping eleven horses with
anabolic steroids. His punishment was a ban from racing for eight years, and
the horses he trained were banned from racing for six months.
2008, Renault F1 Racing Team: Team manager Flavio Briatore instructed
one of his team’s two drivers to intentionally crash to assist his teammate.
Renault ended up winning the race with their one remaining driver. The team was
stripped of sponsorship and Briatore was banned from F1 racing for life (which
he later reversed through appeal)
April 2013, Matt
Kenseth: Following the victory from the STP 400, the engine from the car was disassembled
and one of the eight piston rods was found to be three grams (1/10 of an ounce)
too light. Kenseth was deducted 50 championship points, and his crew chief was
fined $200,000 and suspended for six races.
Some may believe
that the punishment given to Matt Kenseth and his racing team was too severe.
Regardless of the amount of the infraction that was made, it was still an
infraction. His team still broke the rules. As a result of the controversy, I
can almost guarantee that all other racing teams went and checked each of their
piston rods to verify that they were within regulation. What about the
thousands of other parts in their cars? That is a lot of inspections to make
and the cost associated with such inspections is likely very high.
To me, one of the
most beautiful attributes to the sport of horse racing is its purity. I have
written many times about how the pure drive for one athlete to be better than
another is one of the most exciting events anyone can witness. Aside from the
grace of the animals, and the excitement of the race, the sport also represents
a game that many use to wager and gamble. Part of this wagering is the
assumption that all horses are playing on equal terms.
As much as I wish
to be a romantic about the splendor of the sport’s qualities, I also have to be
a rational thinker and understand that things are not always a fairy tale.
However in the interest of fair sport, it is the responsibility of the
organizers to ensure that there is a level of equality amongst the participants,
and even more paramount than fairness to the players, is the safety of the
One of the main
differences between horse racing and the other types of racing mentioned above
is that horses do not have free will to decide to cheat. It is a hand forced on
them by their caregivers and trainers. When a cyclist decides to alter the
natural state of their body, they do so with the understanding that it could be
life threatening. When a human sprinter decides to take steroids to push their
limitations beyond what God intended, they do so knowingly and willingly.
However, when a horse is drugged, for whatever reason, it not only puts the
animal’s well being into question, but also the well being of its handlers.
exercise rider by the name of Jess C. Meche was killed while working a horse
for a suspended quarter horse trainer named M. Heath Taylor. Taylor was
suspended for having horses in his care testing positive for Dermorphin, a Class
1 painkiller obtained from the excretions of South American tree frogs. Although
Taylor was suspended for five years by the Louisiana Racing Commission, he
obtained a stay of his suspension and continued training. We will never know if
the horse that broke down was under the influence of Dermorphon because
Louisiana does not require post mortem investigations or toxicology tests on
deceased horses. Being a rational person who (almost) always thinks
optimistically, I will not jump to a conclusion that the horse that broke down
was under the influence of any illegal medications without evidence. However,
the prior knowledge of Taylor’s history does give a moment of pause. I should
be very clear here. What happened to Meche was a tragedy, but there is no
telling if the same horse would not have sustained the same injuries under the
care of another trainer.
What went wrong
Mr. Taylor was
not allowed to practice horse training in any state outside of Louisiana with a
Class 1 banned substance conviction. However, the tragic death of Jesse Meche
occurred in the one state where Taylor was permitted to continue training. The
problem is not the trainer, horse, jockey, or continuation of training. The
issue is the lack of commonality across the various racing organizations. Regardless
of what your personal opinions are on a unified racing authority in the United
States, I would argue that we need a set of unified rules and punishment dealing
with banned substances and other types of cheating.
Injuries are not
uncommon in any arena of sport, however, they can become more frequent or severe
if pain is masked and performance is increased beyond the means of the
individual. I do not condemn (in fact, I endorse) the use of medications for
therapeutic purposes, so long as they are administered within the boundaries to
which they are permitted. In a sport like horse racing, it is up to the
governing bodies to regulate the use of approved medications and prevent the
use of illegal ones. Greed is a powerful motivator, and it is often what drives
many banned substances to be abused. With horse racing, the presence of money
is everywhere, as is temptation.
Is the only
possible deterrent to greed the severity of the punishment? When I look at the
eight-year ban of Al Zarooni for his use of steroids in horses, I feel that
this is aptly justified. Some people may think this was overbearing or too
severe. Others may think an example was made of him to scare his peers and
prevent them from conducting the same practice. It worked. Only a week later, Newmarket
trainer Gerard Butler admitted to using the same medications, in the same
manner as Al Zarooni.
administrations in the world support the actions of the British Horseracing
Authority in regards to Al Zarooni. Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges
is now pushing for a worldwide
ban on steroid use in race horses.
Steroids are only
one type of performance enhancer, and in some places in the USA different types
of steroids are legal for horses. Perhaps the most well known case is that of
Big Brown and trainer Tony Dutrow’s admission to racing him under the influence
of the supplement Winstrol. I want to emphasize that word: supplement. That is
how it was viewed amongst certain racing commissions in the United States,
specifically the ones governing where the substance was given to Big Brown; but
that is not how it was viewed in New York. Dutrow has received a ten-year ban
from training in New York after having some of his horses (not Big Brown) test above the legal
limits of certain medications. No one can deny Mr. Dutrow’s training talent or his love for
horses, but he broke the rules, and he was punished.
Cheating is not
only isolated to the use of banned substances. Recall what I mentioned before
about creativity. If we knew every way to cheat, then authorities would be able
to identify it with greater ease. The only way to reduce and hopefully
eliminate cheating is to create a negative consequence that outweighs the greed
that likely causes the cheating in the first place. I have lost no respect for
Mr. Dutrow or Mr. Al Zarooni through their ordeals; they are brilliant horsemen.
I am thankful for them because their unfortunate actions and corresponding publicity
is necessary to institute change. Without the fear of punishment, there will
always be those willing to cheat. But when lives are held in the balance, there
is no punishment that is too harsh and no amount of compromise that should be
Rules are in
place for the safety of the competitors, the fairness for the spectators, and
for the sanctity of the sport. They should not be viewed as “calculated risks.”
They should not be flexible. They should not be subject to interpretation. They
should be consistent.
My thoughts and
prayers go out to the family and loved ones of Jesse Meche and to the
connections of the horse that was lost, including Mr. Taylor.
**Photo Credit to the Telegraph.co.uk