Commentary

When punishment don't fit the crime

Updated: July 5, 2012, 3:46 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

According to reports in the Daily Racing Form, two Quarter Horses trained by Alvin Smith tested positive for Aramine in 1999. Aramine, a powerful stimulant, is considered a Class 1 drug, meaning its usage is among the most serious offenses a trainer can commit.

There are hundreds of other Alvin Smiths out there, trainers who cheated, caused irreparable harm to horse racing and were slapped lightly on their wrists.

In any other sport or any other business or in anything where common sense prevails, Smith would have been banned for life. By drugging his horse, he had attempted to defraud bettors and rival owners and trainers, had impugned the integrity of the sport and had put the health of jockeys and horses in danger. There should not have been any reason for leniency.

Yet, he was suspended for seven measly months.

Apparently, Mr. Smith didn't learn any lessons. Fast-forward 13 years and he is in the news again. Smith is one of five Louisiana-based trainers who have thus far been named for having horses test positive for Dermorphin. Dermorphin is a powerful painkiller and also a Class 1 drug.

There are hundreds of other Alvin Smiths out there, trainers who cheated, caused irreparable harm to horse racing and were slapped lightly on their wrists. That Smith is back in trouble should surprise absolutely no one. Horse racing has never done a very good job of catching the bad guys and when it did it treated them like jaywalkers. And look where it got the sport. The media has beaten it silly this year, the public's confidence in the game has never been lower and honest owners, tired of losing to cheats, are getting out. That's a good way to kill a sport.

In the better-late-than-never department, it seems that here has been an awakening within the sport. The Jockey Club has taken the lead in calling for stiffer penalties for those caught using drugs and is calling on implementation of a point system that would call for anyone having a Dermophin positive getting a 10-year ban and a $37,000 fine. The problem is the Jockey Club has no authority to levy fines or suspensions.

Two thoroughbred trainers, Anthony Agilar and Keith Charles, have joined the list of those who have had Dermophin positives in Louisiana. There's also the case of Northern California-based trainer Genaro Vallejo, who has had a positive for a Class 1 drug known as Zilpaterol. The horse in question, Red Dwarf, is owned by a stable managed by TVG analyst Nick Hines.

Vallejo, Agilar, Charles, Smith and the rest get their day in court. But if they are found guilty their cases will be a litmus test for a struggling sport. If it's business as usual, they'll get suspensions in the neighborhood of one year and, perhaps, a small fine.

If the sport is finally determined to do the right thing these trainers will be dealt with severely.

The appropriate penalty would be a lifetime ban and a hefty fine.

The appropriate penalty would be a lifetime ban and a hefty fine. Why would the sport ever invite them back? And their cases should be referred to the local District Attorney's offices. Anyone drugging a racehorse has committed a crime and should be prosecuted. Anyone using a Class 1 drug belongs in prison.

Don't expect these guys to get booted for life or that their cases will be turned over to law enforcement. It's more likely they will get 10 years. That wouldn't be enough, but it would a step in the right direction. It would be a sign that horse racing isn't going to bury its heads in the sand anymore when it comes to what is a serious problem.

Ramon is No. 1: With little fanfare, Ramon Dominguez is having one of the best meets a jockey has ever had. Going into the July 4 card at Belmont, he had 62 wins on the meet from 249 mounts (25%) and was 14 wins ahead of runner-up Javier Castellano. That Dominguez is having an outstanding meet at a New York racetrack is nothing new; he has become the dominant rider at the NYRA tracks. What makes his numbers so remarkable is that he is compiling them against the best riding talent assembled in at least the last 20 years.

With the huge purses attracting top riders from all over the country, Dominguez is competing against Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, Edgar Prado, Julien Leparoux, Jose Lezacano, John Velazquez, Cornelio Velasquez and a number of other seriously talented riders. The last time a racing circuit had a roster of jockeys like this was in the mid-eighties when Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye, Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. were riding in California.

No one should be dominating in New York, yet Dominguez is doing just that. Amazing

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com