2 Hall of Fame horse players have ideas on how to fix the races

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There was irony surrounding the induction of new Hall of Famers Michael Beychok and David Gutfreund last month into the National Horseplayers Championship.

Wasn’t it the same two guys who for the past six months said they were done with horse racing?

“The thing is, there’s no way Michael and I will give up completely,” Gutfreund said. “Reduce a little, yes. Completely, completely stopped? It’s too deep in our blood.

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This is the same David Gutfreund who wrote on Twitter last August 15, “Between the corporate meanness of all the alphabet groups, the blatant cheating on the back, which is obviously bad for the horses, and the general apathy from people involved in the game,… it’s time to go. And I’ll admit it, it’s not going to be easy. I’ve tried it before.

January 22 in the Louisiana Newspapers the lawyer and The Times Picayune, Beychok wrote, “Trainers who use drugs on their horses are illegally racing horses in the sport’s biggest races. When caught, it is too late for lanes to “de-pay” bettors who have won and pay bettors who have lost. …I’m quitting horse racing, but the truth is, horse racing has abandoned me.

The following week, Beychok realized he wasn’t the first to say he was crazy as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore.

“What I’m probably following is Dave’s example, which is a brave, honest, truthful assessment of the industry and where it’s at,” Beychok said.

The pair sat together hours before their Hall of Fame induction on the final day of NHC 2022. Beychok, 58, a political consultant based in Baton Rouge, La., and Gutfreund, 60, a pro gamer who shares his time between Chicago and Las Vegas, answered questions during a lengthy interview for horse racing nationby Ron Flatter Racing Pod.

Gutfreund, known in gaming circles as “The Maven”, wore a T-shirt that read “Take a stand”. Beychok said it was a microcosm of what drove him to take such a strong stance in his hometown newspapers.

“Where I am, I have to take a stand,” said Beychok, the 2013 NHC million dollar first prize winner. “It might not work for everyone, but I have to worry about how it works for me.”

Both men identified the most frequently mentioned issues with the sport. Drug cheaters. Elevated takeaways. Disjointed administration. Lax regulations. When asked what was at the top of their to-do list to fix the sport, they settled on something more basic than all that.

“Product,” said Gutfreund, who enjoyed an unmatched fall streak to win the NHC Tour one-year title in 2018. “Product has to be better. Having a good product compensates for a lot of other mistakes. and makes the game much more interesting for players.

Gutfreund chose the small size of the fields in California as a case in his larger point.

“The product in many jurisdictions is no longer what it used to be on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “This, above all, must be corrected.”

“If you don’t have product,” Beychok said, “you don’t have game.”

He added that there had been some important steps in the right direction, but they had not achieved any meaningful goals. The 2020 federal indictment against trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro and 25 other defendants charged with illegal horse doping came to mind.

“Where are the other indictments?” Beychok asked. “These are not the only two offenders. They were used as an example, like almost sacrificial lambs by the powers that be. They wanted to say, “I hope we cleaned it up. Let’s move on.’ Well, we haven’t cleaned it up, and that’s why I’m not moving forward.

Beychok was particularly visible in his criticism of Bob Baffert, who is fighting to preserve not only his reputation, but also the late Medina Spirit’s victory in the Kentucky Derby last year. With the colt failing a post-race drug test, Churchill Downs suspended Baffert and his horses for two years. Beychok then became the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit on behalf of bettors whose losing tickets might have been winners had Medina Spirit been disqualified on race day.

Now Beychok is watching with keen interest how the Kentucky commissioners can still change the outcome of the race, perhaps overnight.

“If Medina Spirit is disqualified, obviously that will help our cause,” Beychok said.

He and Gutfreund said the sport’s greatest good would be served by implementing the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act (HISA), but only if the new federal law’s anti-drug executive order is robust.

“There are a lot of coaches running away and hiding from the law,” Beychok said. “We don’t have the tests. HISA was supposed to solve it. They promised us (US Anti-Doping Agency), but we don’t get USADA. That’s what they promised Congress to get through. This is what convinced Churchill Downs. This is what convinced Mitch McConnell (the Republican leader of the Senate). Now they’ve taken that rug out from underneath.

“He must have good tests,” Gutfreund said. “He has to have some teeth and the industry has to support him.”

USADA announced in December that it could not negotiate an agreement with HISA directors to take on the burden of enforcing drug rules in horse racing. If that didn’t stop the forward momentum of HISA’s planned enactment on July 1, it certainly slowed everything down.

“Let’s ask HISA to make a deal with a real-world drug testing agency that has nothing to do with horse racing,” Beychok said. “They can go out and test the drugs that are prevalent, and have HISA have the teeth to enforce the results.”

Gutfreund said some star riders may have to take the fall to send a message that the old way of doing business on the sidelines of the rules won’t work anymore.

“You have to be ready to throw people under the bus,” Gutfreund said. “You have to be ready to assume your responsibilities. Horse racing has never really wanted to take responsibility. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the biggest names in the sport, not just now but over the decades in the sport, have been protected. »

Both men pointed to Rick Dutrow, the coach of Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2008, who is in the final 11 months of a 10-year suspension by the New York Racing Association for repeated violations on drugs. Dutrow has his supporters who believe he was created to serve as an example.

“Richard Dutrow was a handy scapegoat,” Gutfreund said. “Sucks to say he wasn’t the only one, but he wasn’t.”

“He was a scapegoat,” Beychok said. “Now we have two more scapegoats. I fear that we will have to wait another two or three years before having others. We all know it’s there and prevalent, and it hurts gambling, which is the best game of chance we have.

On that note, the conversation flew away. Or more exactly 20 cents. That’s what Gutfreund once turned into $90,000 on a successful multi-race bet.

“You can turn 50 cents on a Pick 5 into six figures,” Gutfreund said. “It can happen to anyone. If you get full fields on a card, you can have that dream. It’s hard to have that dream of sports betting or other kinds of gambling products.”

Yet the two men who spent a lot of time at the NHC reuniting with old friends are ultimately unable to cure the ills of the sport they love.

“I can’t solve it,” Beychok said. “But I want to talk about it.”

About Catharine C. Bean

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