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Running Down a Dream
Bob Carson takes new owners from sales ring to turnout
written by Bob Carson

Chapter 22 – The Dark Side
“The Dark Side”
by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, 1983

Photo Source: Amazon.com

November 12, 2011


I don’t believe I have ever tried to introduce a person to the sport of harness racing without soon having the question asked in some form -

“How much cheating goes on in horseracing?”

You are not exceptions.  Every one of you has asked me this in some form or other.  In fact, a recent study shows that 78% of people surveyed believe that horseracing is crooked.  This albatross has been around the neck of horse racing for as long as horses have raced.

Let me answer clearly,  “I don’t know.”

It’s not that I don’t know that some trainers try to use “performance enhancers” – surely some do. But nobody knows how many or to what degree.  Personally, I fall into the, “A few bad apples taint the sport” category.  If I believed cheating was rampant, I would not be involved in the sport.  People in horse racing work diligently every day to stay ahead of the bad apples, but it is a difficult and never-ending task.  The blood systems of horses are analyzed routinely after races. People do get kicked out and fined.

Another question everybody asked me after watching several of Mariko’s and Fantail’s races was, “Why did the driver pull back?” 

There are plenty of reasons that it “appears” the driver is not letting our horse speed to victory -

First of all, not every horse can be first at the first turn of the race; in fact, being first is not that great.  And half of the field will by necessity fall back somewhat after the start of every race.   Every horse has a different racing style, but generally speaking you want to “save” your horse from racing as hard as possible in the early part of the race.

Second, when you are driving a horse, (something I suggest you consider trying someday) you will find that you must keep some pressure on the lines, you must keep the bit (the metal piece in the horse’s mouth) snug against the inside of the horse’s mouth or the horse will not be steerable.  I know that to people new to harness racing it looks like drivers are “pulling back” but the drivers are not putting the brakes on. Remember, the better our horse does, the more the driver gets paid.

Returning to the drug issue, our horses are only two years old.  Our belief is that the very young horses that we will compete against are less likely to be given substances that could be questionable.  As horses get older, especially aged racetrack veterans, the chances of foul play may increase. Once again, I have no specific evidence, but this is one of the reasons Jim and I prefer racing stakes horses.

If you continue in the sport, you will need to choose a trainer for your horse.  Do not just look at winning percentages or money earned, find people you trust.  We have had three trainers, Elbert Quesenberry, Dee Hotton and Marty Wollam.  All are solid, honest trainers who do not have baggage.  We have never sent a horse onto the track worrying about a post-race test.

The perception of cheating in horseracing is a black cloud that never seems to leave. Some of the perception is just sour grapes because, after all, either as a bettor or an owner, there is only one winner per contest.  That leaves seven or eight disappointed players looking for scapegoats.  Some of the perception is real.  As you learn this sport, you may notice abnormal times, abnormal winning percentages and excessive vet bills – all signs that make knowledgeable people wince. 
Let me put it this way, Jim and I are still in the racing game so we certainly believe things are “good enough” and we have hopes that they will be getting better.  We try to position ourselves so we do not get taken advantage of when we decide where we play and who we play against.  We have high hopes that science on the testing front might prove a stronger ally in the future.   Should the day arrive when we believe that the “good” trainers do not have a relatively level playing field, we will turn to another passion.   

Integrity will always be a battle on the backstretch.

Thinking about jumping into horse ownership?

E-mail owners@ustrotting.com and we will get you more information to get started in the racing game. Click here to share this story with a friend.

Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Bob Carson
Hoof Beats Magazine About the Author
Bob Carson's award-winning freelance writing has appeared in more than two dozen national publications. He is a steady contributor to Trot Magazine, The United States Trotting Association and Timeline Magazine. After more than 200 magazine articles and stories, his first novel, The Voyage of Mess (humor) was released in 2009. In 2005 he produced the documentary film, Touching Home (Minor League Baseball). In 2006 he received the Hervey Award for Journalistic Excellence and Best of Ohio Fiction awards. He has published Minor Trips (Minor League Baseball) since 1991. Bob Carson has owned harness horses for more than a decade, including a stint as a weekend trainer. He lives in Strongsville, Ohio, with his wife, Sue, and daughter, Katie.
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