Irwin: What Satisfaction Is There For Owners Who Employ Cheating Trainers? - Horse Racing News

In this Olympic year, when athletes and officials braved the scourge of COVID against difficult odds to conduct the Summer Games in Japan, I think a lot about what drives these individuals to achieve excellence and from where their satisfaction is derived.

I love and have loved the Olympics since childhood, reveling in the stories of such greats as Jesse Owens, Bob Mathias and Jim Thorpe. Their drive, their talent and their stories live within me and have done so since I was a little kid.

While Track and Field is my favorite sport, horse racing is a close second. I participated in T&F in high school and college, as did my father and brother. The gratification and excitement I felt from competing in athletics, however, pales in comparison to the thrills and satisfaction I have experienced in horse racing.

Watching a steed you are involved with roaring down the stretch on the lead generates a high that beats the short pants off of Athletics.

Satisfaction, however, is more difficult to achieve in horse racing compared with almost any other sporting enterprise, because so many people are involved in racing a horse and the animal itself cannot communicate in the traditional sense with its human caretakers.

On the other hand, when a horse does win a race, the satisfaction is greater because it is so difficult to achieve, especially at the highest levels of the game.

As I have been involved in racing, one way or another, for more than half a century and now am in my seventh decade, I have been struck by a change among owners that is not only profoundly disturbing but possibly a sign that the game may not survive as we have known it.

What I have noticed is not peculiar to horse racing, but to many other aspects of modern society as well, particularly it seems in Western Civilization.

Today we live in a society that cares less for rules and more for winning at all costs. We see this trend not only in sports, but in the financial and pharmaceutical communities where ethics have been stretched to the limits. And the crossover from members of these businesses into racing and their great impact on the track, in the sales ring and at the windows has been something only a blind person could have missed.

I question where the satisfaction comes from in winning races for these owners in this modern era. I question where the good vibes are derived.

I know exactly where it comes from for me. When I am involved in a winner, especially one that achieves a great victory as a result of developing a horse and following a game plan that was months in the making, the satisfaction comes from a job well done with a horse in which I believe.

When our homebred Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby a decade ago, the satisfaction was even greater than that of a usual winner of the Run for the Roses, as his victory was not diminished by connections of the also-rans complaining about troubles in the race.

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To achieve complete satisfaction in winning an important race is very, very difficult. I will never stop thanking my lucky stars it happened in the race we all want to win the most. For me it was a miracle, a blessing and a moment of sheer satisfaction.

In today’s environment I wonder where the satisfaction comes from for those owners who have chosen to be involved with trainers that cheat. It seems obvious to me that certain owners gravitate to certain trainers because they share the same “win at all costs” attitude. They share the same disdain for the rules. And they look at themselves as “sharps” in a world of “chumps.”

In this regard, I am a true chump. A chump is a poor bastard that follows the rules, even knowing that if you take an edge your chances of success will increase dramatically.

Today’s “enlightened” owner, as a now deceased ex-trainer referred to trainers who cheat using modern methods that include Performance Enhancing Drugs, either knows that the trainer he chooses is a cheater, strongly suspects he is a cheater or is an outright enabler of the cheating trainer.

The satisfaction for these owners comes from a) having pulled off a stroke against horses trained and owned by chumps, b) cashing bets based on information that their steeds are juiced to the gills, c) knowing that the improved form of their horses will translate to big prices at public auction or d) the cherry on top of the cake, a lucrative stallion syndication deal.

The normal, garden-variety satisfaction that Little League parents and coaches feel when their team wins or their kid safely runs out a bunt is not what motivates today’s modern owner, who relies on trainers that cheat to win.

I fear that the modern dilemma will lead to the demise of the sport for a few reasons. First, owners that do not cheat are fed up with losing to owners that do and could leave the sport. Secondly, until HISA is up and running, I see absolutely no prospect of positive change, because there is no major racetrack or regulatory agency in any locale that is actively investigating cheating on their grounds.

Racetracks want the horses that cheaters train so they can fill their races. Regulators are like politicians in that their only motivation in life is to keep their jobs.

With no racing press to speak of, save a couple of online outfits, there are precious few journalists remaining to keep the cheaters’ feet to the fire.

If my fellow chumps continue to be robbed by owners that employ, sponsor or enable cheating trainers, we chumps may just come to the sad conclusion that not enough satisfaction remains to be had in order to continue to underwrite the sport of horse racing in North America.

And I write this as an owner who has been winning most of the year at a 25 percent clip in major races around the globe. I am not complaining as a loser, I am complaining as a winner.

Barry Irwin is the founder and CEO of Team Valor International




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