It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham - Woody Allen, 'Bananas' ... Well said, Woody. It certainly applies to the most recent suspension of Jamie Ness.
I’ll give you a brief recap. Mr Ness accumulated twelve (12) positive tests for Clenbuterol in horses he trained in Florida over a three-year period from 2012 through 2014. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, recently posted a consent order that resolved these cases with a 100-day suspension and a $4,800 fine.
The suspension began February 19, 2017, and ends May 29, 2017.
Mr. Ness was the leading trainer in the U.S. in 2012 in the number of wins, with 395 victories and amassed $6,785,822 in prize money.
At the time of his suspension, Mr. Ness was the second leading trainer at Tampa Bay Downs with 22 wins from 72 starts.
Allowed to take over
Although fans and horsemen can take issue with the length of the suspension, the true mockery of the sport is that Mr. Ness’s wife, Mandy, has been allowed to serve as trainer for her husband at Tampa Bay Downs while he is under suspension. To add insult to this mockery, the horses that Mr. Ness had been racing at Laurel Race Course in Maryland have been transferred to his assistant, Cory Jensen, for the period of his 100-day suspension.
According to a report in the Daily Racing Form, Ms. Ness is training her husband’s stable of about 25 horses stabled at Tampa Bay Downs, while Mr. Jensen has taken over a string of about 30 horses that race primarily at Laurel Race Course and Parx Race Track in Philadelphia.
The records in Equibase indicate that Mandy Ness had two starts as trainer in 2017 prior to Mr. Ness’s suspension. In the fifteen (15) day period since the suspension (through March 5, 2017), Ms. Ness has started ten horses (all but one at Tampa Bay Downs) and has won three races.
The Equibase records also show Cory Jensen’s first start as a trainer in 2017 was on February 19, 2017 – the day Mr. Ness’s suspension began. In the fifteen (15) day period since the suspension, Mr. Jensen has started 14 horses (all but two at Laurel Race Course) and has two winners.
‘Closing a loophole’
I am quite familiar with the practice of suspended trainers transferring their horses to relatives and employees. While as the Executive Director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, I drafted the first rule in the nation prohibiting such transfers. The rule was adopted by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission in March 2007 and became the forerunner of the national model rule adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International in 2009.
The late Stan Bergstein wrote a column in May 2007 in Hoof Beats magazine about Indiana’s new regulation. Mr. Bergstein titled his piece ‘Closing a Loophole’ and he said:
“For years in our sport, regulators who talk about integrity issues have looked the other way on a glaring loophole in the administration of justice. In doing so, they have made a mockery of suspensions in the sport. Allowing suspended trainers to turn their horses over to assistant trainers, or family members, or employees or household members, makes a joke of justice. It allows the suspended trainer to thumb his or her nose at penalties. It has been the custom of the sport forever, and finally a racing commission has the guts and common sense to put a stop to it.”
Mr. Bergstein continued, “The new rules have not won total and complete approval from horsemen - isn’t that amazing? - but those racing in Indiana are learning that the measures are designed to protect them as well the betting public.”
Indiana’s rule is titled Effect of suspension – Trainers and reads as follows:
The horse(s) of a trainer suspended for more than fifteen (15) days in Indiana shall not be transferred to a spouse, member of the immediate family, assistant, employee, or household member of the trainer.
(b) The horse(s) of a trainer suspended in another jurisdiction, may, at the discretion of the executive director, judges, or stewards, be placed on the judge's/steward’s list and be ineligible to compete in Indiana if such horse(s) is trained by a licensee that is a spouse, member of the immediate family, business associate, assistant, employee, or household member of the suspended trainer.
(c) The executive director, judges, or stewards may require a horse(s) previously trained by a suspended trainer, a horse owned by a person employing a suspended trainer, and/or a horse owned by a person who employed the trainer at the time of suspension to be stabled on the grounds of the association.
Over the past decade, this rule has been applied in Indiana many times.
The implementation of the rule is straightforward. Once the trainer is suspended, all horses he trains are placed on the stewards’ list and are ineligible to enter. The owners of the affected horses must make arrangements to engage suitable trainers. After an agreement with a new trainer is reached, the owner must seek approval from the stewards. Once approval is granted, the horses are released from the stewards’ list and allowed to enter.
An industry shooting itself in the foot
Ideally, much of this groundwork can be laid in the week or two leading up to the suspension. Doing so allows for a seamless transition and prevents horses from being placed on the sidelines unnecessarily.
This is how you protect the integrity of the sport.
Instead, in the aftermath of the Jamie Ness suspension, the horse racing industry shoots itself in the foot – again.
Many officials had the opportunity to prevent this mockery of a sham.
The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and the Maryland Racing Commission could have adopted a regulation like Indiana’s – but neither did.
Tampa Bay Downs and Laurel Race Course could have adopted a similar such house rule – but neither did.
The stewards could have opted to deny entry of the affected horses – but they chose not to.
The stewards could have simply denied the trainer transfers – but they chose not to.
The hands of the regulators and track management were not tied. They made a choice.
And as Mr. Bergstein said, “In doing so, they have made a mockery of suspensions in the sport.”
Joe Gorajec has spent his entire adult life in the racing industry and served as the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission for 25 years (1990-2015). He is also a former chairman of the North American regulators’ trade association, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (2008). Now semi-retired, he spends his time consulting, writing and gardening at his central Indiana home.