Horseracing Catches A Break – – Maybe

I consider the fact that Medina Spirit lost in the Preakness Stakes to be a positive outcome for horseracing as an “industry” and for generic sports fans who may not be into race handicapping.  Had Medina Spirit won the Preakness, we would have been bombarded with 3 weeks of spleen venting in favor of and opposed to recognition of Medina Spirit as a potentially  “worthy Triple Crown winner”.  We have been spared that rhetorical  excess and should be thankful for that.

Let me be clear that I harbor no animus at all for Bob Baffert.  Having said that, I do believe that he has skated on rules transgressions that should have been punished more harshly over the past couple of years for two reasons:

  1. He is easily recognizable and is one of the “faces of racing” in the US.
  2. He can afford top-shelf lawyers who can make life miserable for any set of track stewards or state racing authorities that might seek to punish him the way any other trainer would be punished.

Baffert and “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons are the only trainers ever to win the Triple Crown; each has done it twice; there is no denying Baffert’s skills and accomplishments in his field.  However, he is also a magnet for controversy and potential scandal over the past couple of years; and horseracing does not need any sort of “race-fixing overlay” atop the Triple Crown any more than Dick Vitale needs an excuse to gush over any player who dunks a basketball in a televised game.

There is potentially some continued “negative drama” that will carry forward based on the Kentucky Derby victory by Medina Spirit and the subsequent positive test for a regulated anti-inflammatory in its bloodstream.  I read that four bettors on the Derby have filed suit in Federal Court in California against Baffert personally, his racing company and the owners of Medina Spirit.  In that suit they charge that Baffert et. al. are guilty of racketeering and fraud because:

  • If the doping is confirmed, Medina Spirit would be stripped of the win and its owners would have to return the $1.86 million winner’s purse.
  • However, bettors who bet against Medina Spirit would get no relief; anyone who bet on Medina Spirit would get to keep the money they collected from the track or sportsbook and anyone who bet on the newly declared winner, Mandaloun, would be left out in the cold.

When I first read about this, my thought was along the lines of “Good Luck!”  I wondered if a court would even bother to let this get to a trial stage; it seemed so much like sour grapes that I did not think a judge would want his/her name attached to a proceeding of this type.  However, the word “fraud” in the allegation here gave me pause because it was not long ago when the Department of Justice convinced jurors that colleges were victims of fraud because shoe companies bribed top shelf players to go to that college where they might assist the school in winning basketball games.

I never understood then how that was “fraud”; to this day I do not understand how that was “fraud”; had I been on the jury, there would not have been a unanimous finding of “fraud’ in the cases.  Therefore, I must not understand the nuances of “fraud” as they pertain to lawsuits.  So, I stepped back and wondered how all of this might play out in a court.

I have never spent a day of my life in law school; but I do know that in legal settings there is an important place for precedents.  A former colleague who is an active horseracing fan and bettor – he did not have Medina Spirit  or Mandaloun in the Derby – told me that it was only a couple of years ago where a bettor sued a trainer and owner of a harness horse in the circumstance where the horse was declared the winner only to have been detected as being “doped” after the bets had been paid out.  In that case there was a settlement prior to trial – – but that tells me that the court did not tell the litigants to get out of the courthouse and do not come back with something so trivial as to demean the stature of the court.  So, maybe the case against Baffert and the horse’s owners might grab the attention of a Federal judge.

The essence of the suit – – as I understand it – – against Baffert and the owners of Medina Spirit is:

  • Horseracing is a business enterprise that relies on bettors to survive and flourish.  [No argument there…]
  • Bettors assume that horses in a field of participants are all in compliance with track and state regulations – – such as medications.  [A fair – but probably naïve – assumption.]
  • Given that wagers were paid out on Medina Spirit who tested in opposition to medication limits, bettors on Mandaloun who may be declared the winner of record were defrauded of the winnings they will never receive.  [Color me skeptical here.]

Hey!  It’s a long-shot – – but so was Medina Spirit who won the Derby at odds of 12-1.  If I were betting on the outcome of this suit, I would bet that there is a settlement long before this ever goes to a trial.  But I am not a lawyer; so, what do I know?

Finally, since there will be plenty of attorneys involved in the ultimate resolution of this lawsuit, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Lawyer:  A job in which 97 percent of those practicing it somehow manage to give the entire profession a bad name.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………