Cheating: Do Punishments Fit the Crimes?

Al Zarooni 615 X 400
Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin (

According to 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 cheating?”


Unfortunately for 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 “edge.”


Cycling's Tour de France:

1999 - 2005 Lance Armstrong: Admitted to doping while racing to victory for seven consecutive years

2006, Flloyd Landis: Convicted of doping during Tour, surrendered title to Oscar Pereiro

2010, Alberto Contador: Tested positive of doping, surrendered title to Andy Schleck


Track and Field:

1988, 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.


Horse Racing:

April 2013, 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.


Motor Racing:

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 athletes.


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.


Recently an 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 here?


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.


Other racing 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 allowed.


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 


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Older Comments about Cheating: Do Punishments Fit the Crimes?...

brian.maybe that is why so many of these other muscle builders never showed up.i know vyjack got spooked early as rudy said.that is why they are coming back.but for all of the other horses who ran their races.something is wrong.i am not foolish to think that you can check and scrutinize like this in all races.not enough time and money.but when someone gets caughy with hard stuff that is killing horses.ban them for life 2nd chance.if a trainer has positive on a horse that requires over 60 day suspension.ban the horse fromrunning the entire time.let the owners feel it to.let the trainers know that this will not be tolerated.they might lose buisiness.they won't get strict because,the top horses and trainers are their bread and butter.god forbid it happens to the top guys.they may lose out on alot.what people have to realize is the is not only the horses getting is the human life of the jocks.what happens when a horse goes down in a accident can kill a jock or horse.until there is accountability and outrage from within the game.all we are doing is blowing smoke in the wind.there is to much money involved for these hypocrits to do anything about it
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has announced that post-race test results from both the Oaks and the Derby shows all samples cleared with "no irregularities" found.
cheating is wide spread from trainer to trainer.if you ask the common racing an,most will tell you they are skeptical of the majority of will always occur.why? because the individual racing organizations look the other way. higj
Let the horses they do that to kick them in face.
Apparently these trainers who use illegal drugs are not great horsemen. They are not thinking of the best interest of the horse or the people who ride them everyday or in races. A horse can either run or they can't. I think they should be banned for LIFE!
There does indeed Andy. Unfortunately, here unless you have a federal medication rule, it becomes a state by state issue. I have read that there are plans for a more comprehensive drug rule coming out of Congress. This was part of the hearings done awhile back. Some of the scuttlebutt I heard in legal circles was that some of proposed rules were worse than what we have now. True or not this is what I have heard from lawyer friends of mine who have been involved in the process.
There needs to be a greater distinction between the use of therapeutic medications that are needed to treat routine ailments and performance enhancements and other treatments that endanger the horse. Frog juice, clenbuterol, blocking, shock therapy need to be dealt with quickly and significantly and in a different way then when there is an accidental violation with the use of therapeutics.
Floridaf. I don't know all the legal issues in the jockeys case, but I suspect that the differences in legal system may have played a part.
Floridaf. It is sadly an additional wrinkle to a complicated system which involves issues of federalism, I.e. state and federal courts and administrative bodies.
That is an interesting point, buckpasser. I had no idea that Louisiana's laws were different than those throughout the rest of the country. That certainly explains the circumstances that led to Meche's death.
I understand the tragedy of the jockey in Louisiana, but there is a legal wrinkle here that is not appreciated. The State of Louisiana is governed by Civil law. This is the system of most of Europe, including France which is the relevant country here. The rest of the US has common law, that is the law from England. Louisiana for instance is the only state that has not ratified the Uniform Commercial Code and other types of legal regulations prevalent in other states. Their civil law is dominated by aspects of the Napoleonic Code etc etc.

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