Commentary

Cheaters

Updated: March 24, 2014, 2:02 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Nobody takes cheating like horse players.

We think: What are you going to do? Complain some more, that's about it. Express outrage over the lightweight punishment. If somebody tries to make an illegal charge on your credit card, you're protected. They don't need to cheat you at the casino games. Casino games are money magnets. But if somebody tried to clip you out of a hundred-dollar bill with a heat and air conditioning scam, or if a car mechanic says you need this and that when all you really need is a wash, public despair is loud and clear. But if a horse with no talent follows its bug eyes out of the gate and wins by ten and pays $90, the horse player thinks: That's racing for you.

This sport does not have the best reputation when it comes to fictional material presented on a screen.

But sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's stealing. Taking money by illegal means, often from the poor and the stupid, is considered to be a lowlife endeavor and is usually punished by periods of incarceration; except occasionally at the horse race track. What are you going to do when a horse that can't win, trained by a trainer who can't train, loses 15 in a row by a mile and then comes to the races and wins by a dozen and pays a select few a small fortune? You're probably going to put it out of your mind. Bearing the pain of the impossible winner is like a tax on top of the house cut that you pay for the opportunity to wager against idiots. Unless the allegation of a cheating scandal breaks: Then you're going to see crooks everywhere.

Here are some thoughts about cheaters at the horse races.

This sport does not have the best reputation when it comes to fictional material presented on a screen. When the exterior of a horse race track is shown in a movie, the viewer's first thought is: Here comes trouble. When the trunk of a vehicle is opened in the parking lot of a horse race track in a motion picture, the viewer expects to see a suitcase full of cash or a bag of bones. As Angelica Huston kept opening her car trunk at low-rent horse race tracks in "The Grifters," who didn't sink lower in the theater seats. Any cheating scandal in this sport, alleged or factual or even fictional, does the responsible horse player's reputation no good.

Before purses were spiked by cuts of the profits provided by slot machine addicts, and before wagers could be traced down to the last rat, horse race cheats followed the group plan. Races were choreographed like Broadway musicals. A short-priced favorite was pulled and long shots lined up single file around the track to produce astronomical numbers, that's racing, the winners said, smiling. Horse race payoffs used to be so big, and accessible, that bookmakers put limits on how much a gambler could collect out behind the convenience store, 20-1 tops, in some instances. Anymore, stealing is alleged and done on an individual basis, one trainer, one jockey, one illegal substance, one electronic shocking device. Cheating at the top level of the game is done for the worst of reasons, glory.

It is hard to believe that some jockeys are still being accused of using electronic devices to get horses to run faster. Talk about medieval.

People actually handicap for crooks at tracks in the sticks. Whereas stats are not published on impossible wins, regular horse players know full well who gets the most out of nothing in the boondocks. Security at small tracks does not feature drones circling the ovals. At some places, you're lucky to get a security camera at one end of a row of tellers. Security in some barns is a dog barking. The way you handicap for cheaters at the horse races in out of the way venues is you keep track of impossible wins and come right back with another horse from a "hot" barn. Make more small bets on exotic tickets, that's the cowboy way.

It is hard to believe that some jockeys are still being accused of using electronic devices to get horses to run faster. Talk about medieval. Erratic behavior used to be suggestive of a horse being shocked, a horse engaged in a nose-to-nose stretch duel making a sudden right and then spinning in circles and kicking up its heels, for example. Technology used to be lacking. Sometimes you used to have to come back tomorrow for the results of a photo, or so it seemed. With cameras that can show a rider's missing tooth while racing on the backside, it's hard to believe anybody could muster the sleight of hand required to conceal a shocking tool. Still, they might need metal detectors for some jockeys, not scales.

The other afternoon I watched a high-dollar trainer explain why one of his beautifully bred horses had run like a mule, finishing out of the money and out of sight of the camera when the winner crossed the finish line. The trainer said that his horses had "needed the race." He said it with a smile and a shrug. Well guess what. I had "needed the money" that I lost on this horse's practice run. That a horse would "need a race" is like insider trading with one exception. Nobody pays except the wagering public.

If society as a whole regarded cheaters the way the horse race industry does, we wouldn't need many jails. Due process in horse racing runs like a $4,000 claimer. Speed up the investigatory system. Make penalties stricter. Now who do you like in the next race?

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