Commentary

Chaotic state of horse racing

Updated: July 2, 2012, 2:19 PM ET
By Gary West | Special to ESPN.com

If rules and regulations changed from state to state for each sport, havoc would ensue. Or to look at it another way, the result would be horse racing.

For just a moment, allow your imagination to wander into such a chaotic world. It wouldn't go there willingly, of course. You would never banish your imagination to such a place, but send it there for just a moment, for a glimpse. Imagine, for example, an NFL in which each team's state regulatory agency, its football commission, made its own rules, handed out penalties and determined eligibility.

Imagine an NFL in which each team's state regulatory agency ... made its own rules, handed out penalties and determined eligibility.

The Louisiana Football Commission, for example, might make a passing touchdown worth more points than a rushing touchdown. The approach would be self-serving -- the Saints' Drew Brees, after all, led the NFL last season with 46 touchdown passes -- but what's a state commission for if not to serve local interests?

The North Carolina Football Commission, on the other hand, might ban the forward pass altogether. The Panthers, after all, have a talented group of running backs, and their quarterback, Cam Newton, ran for more than 700 yards last season, when Carolina led the NFL with 5.4 yards for every rushing attempt and didn't lose a single fumble.

And the Louisiana Football Commission might take a boys-will-be-boys view of the bounty scandal, calling it an unfortunate imbroglio. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, you might recall, suspended Saints coach Sean Payton a year and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove eight games, but if a Louisiana Football Commission had been in control it could have issued little hand-slapping fines instead, and happy Mardi Gras.

In this chaotic sports world, the Massachusetts regulators might be especially stern. They could think it their hyperborean duty to save sports from tricksters and malcontents, so Patriots coach Bill Belichick might still be serving a suspension for that taping incident back in 2007. Not to be outdone, the Massachusetts Baseball Commission might have suspended Marlon Byrd several years after he tested positive for Tamoxifen.

And in a burst of macho creativity, the Texas Baseball Commission could create a new position, the offensive outfielder. Imagine Josh Hamilton, who's built like a Ford F-450 Super Duty but fast as a Maserati, roaming the outfield as his teammates come to the plate. And imagine the Angels' Mike Trout moving underneath a fly ball in center field but then, just as he's about to make the catch, being tackled by Hamilton, who in effect turns a Michael Young popup into a triple.

The California Commission, of course, might mandate that every baseball field in the state have artificial turf. And the Maryland Baseball Commission could shrink the diamond, which might be auspicious for those lead-footed Orioles.

Yes, this sports world would be chaotic. And it's all nonsense, of course. But that's where horse racing finds itself, mired in the nonsense of inconsistent rules, regulations and penalties.

What's allowed in one state might not be permitted in another. I'll Have Another, for example, wore a Flair nasal strip when he won in California, Kentucky and Maryland. But stewards in New York weren't going to allow the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner to wear a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes.

Stewards have an obligation to protect the bettors. But that decision [to disallow nasal strips at the Belmont Stakes] had the potential to confuse or mislead bettors.

As it turned out, of course, I'll Have Another was retired with an injury on the Friday before the Belmont. But who did that no-nasal strip decision serve?

Nobody. Stewards have an obligation to protect the bettors. But that decision had the potential to confuse or mislead bettors.

Thresholds for permitted race-day medication can vary from state to state, so that a "positive" test here might not be a "positive" there. Penalties vary, too. A violation that might lead to a 30-day suspension in one jurisdiction could result in a six-month suspension in another.

It's a situation guaranteed to confuse horsemen and, even worse, alienate fans. Some have lamented that horse racing is dying. But given the confusion and lack of agreement, it's amazing, frankly, that horse racing hasn't already died.

This week, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, which represents all the major racetracks in North America, announced that its directors, who met in May, have endorsed the adoption of uniform medication rules. Uniform rules and penalties are long overdue.

The sport finally seems to be asking the essential question: Why do horses race? Horses race for the entertainment of the fans. And the sport's fans deserve better.