Commentary

Suspensions don't work

Updated: March 26, 2013, 11:33 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

On any day at any racetrack there is a trainer or two or more that has been suspended for drug violations. Suspended? Yes. But penalized? Not necessarily.

The Paulick Report recently ran a story about suspended Charles Town trainer Scooter Davis, who put his horses in the name of Douglas Shanyfelt when his suspension began. Apparently suspicious that Davis hadn't gone away, track management videotaped Davis allegedly bringing horses by van to a private barn near the track, the same horses that then ran under the name of Shanyfelt. Shanyfelt has been suspended for one year and Charles Town stewards upheld an earlier decision to ban Davis.

The problem is that suspensions are toothless penalties that aren't enough of a deterrent for those who are willing to cheat to win.

Good for Charles Town, but for every Davis-Shanyfelt there are hundreds of others who are never caught. Someone gets suspended for a drug violation and the horses are put under the names of their assistants, their brother, their father, their friend. Yet the suspended trainer is still calling the shots and, likely, collecting his or her cut every time one of their horses wins. Even if the suspended trainer does step away, how serious a penalty is it when his or her stable keeps chugging right along and winning races under the name of an assistant or relative?

The problem is that suspensions are toothless penalties that aren't enough of a deterrent for those who are willing to cheat to win. So do away with them.

There's a much better way to crack down on cheating and make the miscreants pay for their actions. Fine the living daylights out of them.

Davis was penalized last summer for Clenbuterol positives. He was handed a fairly stiff suspension of six months plus a fine of $5,000. Davis wins a lot of races and though he wasn't set down until late August, his stable had already earned over $1 million. A $5,000 fine couldn't have hurt him that badly.

But what if Davis had been fined $50,000 or maybe $100,000? What if Davis knew that a fine of that nature was what he could expect if he got caught taking an edge? I imagine he would have thought long and hard before doing anything that might have gotten him a positive test result and his bank account hammered.

You don't have to hit a trainer with a huge fine when they have a bute overage or they don't get the horse to the paddock on time. That's when a $200 fine is appropriate. But when a trainer is caught using a drug where it's obvious they were trying to gain an unfair advantage on the competition then they should be hit with a massive fine, one that will really hurt.

Based on the Paulick Report, it was business as usual for Davis after he was suspended, which is hardly a surprise. All it takes is a willing accomplice and maybe a cell phone and the suspended trainer is back in business.

My Hall of Fame Ballot

There were four horses, five jockeys and one trainer on the ballot for this year's Hall of Fame and none of them exactly jumped off the page.

A voter can vote for as few or as many candidates as they wish. The four candidates with the highest vote totals will be inducted.

There were no Zenyattas, Rachel Alexandras, Bob Bafferts on the ballot, the type you don't have to think twice about voting for. I voted for just two -- Invasor and Calvin Borel.

I hemmed and hawed on Borel. Though he recently won his 5,000th race, he has never exactly been an elite jockey. His wins have mainly come on blue-collar horses. The one huge exception, of course, is the Kentucky Derby, which he won three times between 2007 and 2010, a remarkable accomplishment in what is by far the biggest race run in America. Only eight others have won the race three times or more and all eight are in the Hall of Fame.

Invasor's career was a brief one but he was the dominant horse of the middle half of the last decade. After coming to the Kiaran McLaughlin barn from South America he was unbeaten in six tries, all in Grade 1 competition. He won the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup, a pretty potent daily double.

I passed on Lure, Housebuster, Ashado, Gray Jones, Craig Perret, Alex Solis, Chris Antley and Lure.

• 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