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Sunday, August 23, 2009

RUI: Does It Happen?

I'm no expert on this subject, but I tried to delve around to find out what kind of protection horseplayers (and the horses) have against jockeys riding under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or with a major hangover (wherin a blood alcohol level is still registering) on raceday. I had some trouble finding out whether or not there is any random drug or alcohol testing performed, but again it looks like each jurisdiction is different (shocker, why would there be uniform rules or regulations, that's just silly), but it does appear in most states that the testing does take place. I find it odd that you rarely hear of any positives being reported. There is a famous 1986 court case on the topic, Shoemaker v. Handel, wherein the US Court of Appeals found in favor of the NJ Racing Commission and upheld a previous decision allowing drug and alcohol testing in that state. Maryland also appears to have a random, suspicionless testing program.

The judge in the Shoemaker case cited the following:

“Public confidence forms the foundation for the success of an industry based on wagering. If participants in horse racing are under the influence of, or addicted to, illegal drugs, or are more amenable to involvement in corrupt practices in exchange for access to drugs, the public perception of the integrity of horse racing – its very life-blood – would quickly dissipate. The loss of integrity would result in a severe and drastic downward spiral effect: The public would wager less money, result in smaller purses to be earned by the horsemen; smaller purses would result in owners’ and trainers’ racing their horses elsewhere for greater financial reward; fewer horses would result in small fields, which are less attractive to the wagering public; as a result, less money would be wagered; less money wagered would mean smaller purses, in perpetuation of the downward spiral."

I found it very interesting that the group of jockeys (I assume with Jockey Guild backing) tried to use the Fourth Amendment to try and stop the random testing in the Shoemaker appeal. If I were a clean jockey I would also want protection against another jockey riding under the influence who could potentially injure me catastrophically due to reckless driving. Think of the innocent driver who is injured or maimed by a drunk driver...

What made me interested in this topic was the recent arrest of jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. in the Springs for cocaine possession. That and the fact that in some social media circles you can see posts by prominent (and not so prominent) jockeys proclaiming they are going out on the town, posts at early morning times, etc. Now I'll probably lose a few facebook friends over this, but who wants to bet on a horse the next day when his/her jockey has been tripping the light fantastic the night before? The NYS Racing & Wagering Board immediately suspended Arroyo's license to ride in New York. I also found that other countries definitely randomly test jockeys for drugs and alcohol. South Africa, the UK, New Zealand and Australia all perform some sort of random testing (breathalyzers for alcohol) of their jockey colonies.

Maybe we have a bunch of clean jockeys riding across the country and it's a non-issue. But what if it's not? Shouldn't it be something that's tested or monitored as part of the NTRA's Safety and Integrity Alliance Code of Standards since it appears that most jurisdictions (if not all) are currently performing testing? They are supposed to be the watchdog to ensure the safety and integrity of each track, why not add it to the code?



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