IS THE HORSERACING INTEGRITY ACT WORTH PASSAGE INTO LAW?

The “shot heard round the world” was the name given to arguably the most famous home run in baseball history.  Coming in the bottom of the ninth inning with one out, the New York Giants Bobby Thomson hit a 3-run blast to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a 1951 pennant playoff game at the Polo Grounds and sent his team to the World Series.  Herman Franks, a Giants coach in 1951, claimed on his deathbed that he was stealing the Dodgers catcher’s signs with a telescope in center field and Thomson was tipped off on what pitches were coming. 

Whether Thomson was the beneficiary of sign stealing is likely, but debatable. What happened in the 2017 World Series is not in question: one of the biggest scandals in baseball history.  Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran, A. J. Hinch, and Jeff Luhnow, all of whom were part of the Houston Astros organization in 2017, were fired for their role in an elaborate sign-stealing scheme, which helped the Astros to win playoff games and to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.  (When the cheating became public in 2019, Cora lost his job as the manager of the Boston Red Sox, Beltran was terminated as manager of the New York Mets, and Hinch (manager) and Luhnow (general manager) were suspended and then fired by the Astros.)

As periodic incidents in Major League Baseball, cycling, track and field, and other sports have demonstrated, some athletes will cheat to win.  Horse racing has had its share of high-profile scandals, from rigging of the betting system in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Pick-6 to medication disqualifications, including in the 1968 Kentucky Derby. 

Having a fault-free sport is an ideal objective that can never be attained in practice.  Somebody, somehow will find a way to game the system.  Nonetheless, especially in a sport like horse racing that depends on wagering, fans must be confident that rigorous procedures are in place to detect and punish rules violations.  People involved in the racing industry would widely agree with this assertion.  The divergence of opinion occurs when it comes to how to police the industry.  One camp believes that federal legislation is needed to replace the hodgepodge of state regulations pertaining to medication, whereas another group, for various reasons, is opposed to a centralized bureaucracy, citing, for example, that a central authority did not prevent cheating by, say, the Houston Astros or Lance Armstrong in cycling.

A federally-mandated organization to regulate medication (i.e. the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority)  would not be a panacea.  The question is whether it would be a significant improvement over the status quo, a time in which racing’s image among the general public has been badly tarnished.   With American pari-mutuel wagering in secular decline, and the sport under attack, the federally-mandated option seems worth the risk.

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