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Honesty in Horse Racing Examined

Nov 27, 2007
The newcomer to racing often is surprised not only to find it is considered a sport but also that it is supervised more meticulously than any other sport. In fact, racing rules are probably more stringent than the regulations governing any other sport.

This quest for honesty does not stem entirely from the tracks spirit of good will and good fellowship toward the little $2 bettor. A track these days is a gold mine and with millions at stake, operators, indeed, would be foolish to wink at any dealings that might kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs.

Before the horse steps out of his stall on race day, he is subjected to more examinations than a 60-year-old man applying for a $200,000 life insurance policy. The track officials want to be sure not only that he is himself and not a horse of another color but also that he has had nothing stronger for breakfast than water and oats. Paddock judges again inspect the horse before the race to make certain he is the same horse described on his social security card.

They don't want Speedy Jim to flash across the finish line at good odds when the horse actually entered was old Hoof Beats. Since no way has been found as yet to take a horse's hoof prints, the tracks have done the next best thing - they have tattooed the horse's identification into his lips so that even the most absent-minded owner now has no excuse for trying to palm off one horse as another creature.

Men and cameras are trained on the horses constantly until they are back in the barn again. Patrol judges keep lonely vigils around the track to see that every horse and rider conducts himself as becomes the sport of kings and two-dollar bettors. Placing judges are given mechanical help through cameras that photograph the finish. And saliva and urine tests after the race betray if by chance the horse stopped along the back stretch and got his second wind from a drugstore.

Hope burns just as high in the chests of the boys who like to look for short cuts as it does in the two-buck bettor. With such tremendous sums at stake, now and then something not recommended by Hoyle does slip past. But only in the movies do shadowy characters meet behind the stables to fix a race. At a real track, trying to fix a race would involve dealing with so many owners, trainers, jockeys, stable hands, track officials and others that the fixers would need the key to Fort Knox to pay off. And then they might find that the party most concerned - the horse - failed to run according to script.

For the thoroughbred is just about the most temperamental bit of flesh on earth. A race horse is subject to more whims and moods than a big businessman with an ulcer and shattered nerves. When an owner has "one of those days" he can stay in bed and wait for the sun to come up again. The horse, with no choice about whether he races or not, is apt to make his protest by sulking or by running a dull or erratic race.

If the horse should rise and shine on race day, filled with the zest of good living, he may change his mind at the post. The saddle girth may be too tight or too loose. The jockey may sit too far up on the horse or he may not sit up far enough. The horse may shy slightly just as the starting gates open and that may cost him so many yardages he can never make it up.

Once the horse flashes first across the finish line, he still can lose. He may have bumped or crowded other horses and thus be disqualified. His jockey may have committed an unsportsmanlike act and again, the horse's number is taken down.

Thus you can see that the sport of kings is subject to so many rules and regulations, the participants just have to stay honest.
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