That first race on Sunday at Aqueduct was slated to be a good one: an allowance optional claiming affair, horses trained by, among others, Rick Violette, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Bruce Levine, running for a $50,000 tag and a $44,000 purse. Of all the Sunday first races at Aqueduct in 2010, this one was arguably the finest. Only the stakes race on that day’s card carried a higher purse.
But as we all know, the race never came off: in protest of New York State legislators’ failure—or inability?—to do their jobs, the six trainers in the race (add Tim Hills, David Jacobson, and Michael Trombetta to the list above) decided to keep their horses in their stalls, and when the horses didn’t show up in the detention barn by the appointed time, the New York Racing Association cancelled the race.
In short order, the steward for the State Racing and Wagering Board, Carmine Donofrio, assessed each of the horsemen a $500 fine “for failure to tend to business in a proper manner.” This decision was based in seven racing rules, with rule 4022.13 perhaps being the most relevant:
…the steward of the board is hereby authorized to impose a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $ 5,000 for each violation of any of the sections of this Subchapter or for any action detrimental to the best interests of racing generally.
The steward who represents the State Racing & Wagering Board is able to impose such fines and other penalties whenever a horseman or horsewoman violates the state’s racing rules; he is required by the rules to “give the other two stewards of the meeting a reasonable opportunity to submit recommendations relative to such penalty.”
The six trainers involved in the work action on Sunday reportedly have no intention of appealing their fines, which means, according to Joe Mahoney at the State Racing and Wagering Board, that New York State’s General Fund will soon be $3,000 richer. And as a December New York Times article indicated that the General Fund, the state’s main bank account, was overdrawn, I’d imagine that, paltry though the sum is, it will be a welcome addition to the state’s coffers.
I can think of a few others coffers, though, that might also gratefully accept what is essentially a $3,000 donation. Fines in sports are not uncommon; though one might question the efficacy of fining multi-millionaire athletes for unacceptable behavior, the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB all regularly assess fines when an athlete breaks the rules.
In a marked departure, though, from New York’s practice, each of those leagues donates money collected from fines to charity, one specified by the league or by the athletes (this very old article by Darren Rovell provides some details).
Might not racing be able to adopt a similar model? Might not money collected from fines assessed on trainers, owners, jockeys be donated to a charity stipulated by the organization assessing the fine, or by the racetrack, or by the individual? Would it not make sense, say, for the money collected in a fine to a jockey whose behavior endangered other jockeys to go to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund? If a trainer is fined for a medication violation, would it not make sense for that money to go to an organization supporting equine welfare?
I recognize that to some people, New York State is a charity case of its own. And given that in this case, it is the State’s rules that have been broken, and it is the State that is assessing the fine, one can make the argument that the State should get the money. Then again—and I am not even remotely suggesting that it’s the case here– assessing a fine that goes to the people who pay your salary has the potential to give off a whiff of impropriety or conflict of interest, and even our desperate state won’t benefit from the relatively small sums collected from those on the racetrack.
I’m sure that changing the recipient of the fine money would require legislative action, so even if the spirit were willing, we all know that the New York legislative flesh is weak when it comes to actually getting something done, particularly when it might benefit racing in our state. And that’s a shame, because given all the harm that our State has done to racing, this is a pretty easy, inexpensive, and effective way to do something good.