Bad news, good news – and the bad first, because it really is bad.
If it prevails, it will affect the runners as well as the trotters and pacers.
It is the case of the 90-day suspension for illegal medication in Ontario of the exceptional trotting filly Crys Dream, a winner of 5 of 6 starts as a 2-year last year, 7 of 8 this year at 3, and $1 million; the honoring of the suspension by the racing commission in New Jersey, where she was eligible for both the $1.5 million Hambletonian and the $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks, harness racing’s two richest events for 3-year-old colt and filly trotters; and the subsequent setting aside of the suspension by the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. He stayed the commission’s suspension and issued a temporary restraining order stopping the commission from enacting its ban.
Crys Dream is owned by four major figures in harness racing: the French breeder and trainer Jean Pierre DuBois, whose Reve Avec Moi Dream With Me stable is highly successful on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border; former Wall Street trader Mike Gulotta, who now is owner of the major New Jersey breeding operation Deo Volente Farms; the brother team of Tom and Louis Pontone and their powerful TLP stable in New Jersey; and one of America’s most successful owners, Jerry Silva, a New York businessman who buys into countless proven or promising products and is part-owner of many of the sport’s best horses.
When they were told that the New Jersey commission intended to honor reciprocity with Ontario, they quickly found a lawyer. Not one from the many giant law firms of nearby New York City, but a small-town lawyer from the racing center of Freehold, N.J., home of Freehold Raceway. His name is Michael Schottland, and he owned harness horses in the 1990s, so he knows the sport.
Schottland decided to pursue two avenues: procedural due process, in that no formal hearing was held in Ontario or New Jersey, and on constitutional grounds that the state of New Jersey does not have the authority to enforce a foreign country’s ruling.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner ruled that under his stay Crys Dream could race in either the Oaks or the Hambletonian.
Her owners chose the Oaks, and she suffered her first loss of the year, finishing third.
Schottland then filed a federal suit against the New Jersey Racing Commission’s executive director, Frank Zanzuccki, who had ordered the purse winnings of Crys Dream be withheld. Schottland says Zanzuccki’s action is “another effort to penalize people who are the basis and backbone of the success or failure of the harness racing industry in New Jersey.” He contends that Zanzuccki has exceeded the powers designated to him, and asks him to recuse himself since he will be the subject of the federal lawsuit.
It is not difficult to understand the four owners wanting to race their dominant filly in the richest race in North America for 3-year-old trotting females. They wanted to stop the Jersey racing commission from exercising reciprocity, and they were successful.
The case hinges on whether New Jersey can enforce rulings of Canadian commissions, but it goes far beyond those borders.
There is brisk traffic of horses in both directions, with horses racing in one country and the other on a regular basis, particularly in major events, of which Ontario has many, with its rich slots-infused purses at more than 15 tracks. The Woodbine Entertainment Group in particular has features worth $100,000 and far more every week, and also offers the richest race in North America for 3-year-old pacers, the $1.5 million North America Cup.
Precedent has dictated for more than half century that one state or province honor the major penalties of another. Precedence and common sense.
Now comes a challenge to both.
In effect, the restraining order issued in New Jersey, should it be made permanent, could render meaningless the issuance of penalties handed down by the Ontario Racing Commission – one of the best and most proactive in pursuing integrity in North America – at American tracks and states.
The owners of Crys Dream have won their case, and lost their race. To pursue the matter further, as Schottland is doing, has dangerous implications.
If it were to succeed, it could wreck the efforts of both commissions to battle illegal actions. But it could go even further than that, inspiring lawyers and owners elsewhere to challenge reciprocity in general.
If this happens, there is one possible benefit that could result. It could lead to action by state and federal lawmakers to mandate reciprocity by law, nationally by states and provinces, and internationally by mutual action or treaty.
Now for the good news.
Ruling bodies, regulators, and highly regarded racing organizations are actually walking the walk, rather than merely talking the talk.
The Breeders’ Cup has announced a ban on Salix (furosemide, a diuretic also known as Lasix) on race day for 2-year-olds next year, and all age raceday medication in 2013. The American Graded Stakes Committee has followed in partial suit, and will not offer graded status to juvenile races that do not follow the ban in 2012. The Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs lent support to the idea, and went further. It seeks medication-free racing, to be introduced on a graduated basis, and it may now deny registration to medication violators with significant offenses. Racing Commissioners International is proposing more stringent medication rules for all of its members.
There is opposition, of course, from some horsemen and veterinarians. But Stuart Janney III, vice chairman of the Jockey Club, says the organization “believes horses should compete free of medication, and supports that policy.” He spoke for thousands when he added, “Many people in this sport have grown weary of the pace of change.”
Amen. Let us pray.