FALCON POINTS

Latest horse racing scandal shows PEDs are still a thing, and baseball should pay attention, too

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I have long been an advocate and fan of horse racing. My love for the sport goes back decades, and I am still very much involved with racing. So when the news broke on Monday that the FBI had charged 27 people in an elaborate doping scheme designed to enhance the performance of race horses, my reaction was two-fold.

1) Embarrassment for the sport I have invested so much in over the years.

2) Happy to see these scumbags caught.

Rough year

Of course, pundits are already weighing in. And they should. Horse racing has been in the cross hairs for all the wrong reasons in the past year. The horse deaths at Santa Anita.The disqualification in the Derby. The shocking news that Justify should have never been allowed in the Triple Crown races.

Now this. And most people react with a collective yawn. Cheating in horse racing? Who knew? A baseball sign stealing scandal becomes national news and is over-reported to death. But where is the outrage for this?

PEDs are nothing new

When baseball's PED scandal exploded, lost was a simple fact: Performance enhancing started with horse racing. It then moved on to human athletic endeavors. When it became public, baseball players went before Congress; no one raised an eyebrow at horse racing.

And it is well past time we should. Both sports have checkered pasts. Would it shock anyone that they are using new PEDs that can't be detected?

The latest scandal

If the FBI is to be believed - and they reportedly have multiple phone conversations recorded - several trainers, including Jason Servis, trainer of 3-year-old champ and recent winner of the $20 million Saudi Cup, Maximum Security - were using a substance called SGF-1000.

The PED is "intended to promote tissue repair and increase a racehorse's stamina and endurance beyond its natural capability."

While racing has tests for many drugs, SGF-1000 is not one of them. One of the veterinarians indicted was caught on tape saying "They don't even have a test for it … there's no test for it in America."

While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, if the tapes are to be believed, this group of people will have a hard time selling a not guilty verdict.

And there's more

Forget the fraud perpetrated on the betting public - we will get to that - the dangers to the horses are obvious. There were drugs that enhanced blood cell counts, and even snake venom was used to dull pain. In essence, it allowed injured horses to run. And yet the world is shocked when there are horse deaths on the track. Don't think these things aren't related.

In addition, it's always suspicious when a trainer starts taking horses from other trainers and immediately improves their performance. It is extremely common, and Servis is one of those. It is also unfair to the trainers who are not cheating.

Long history

Like baseball, horse racing has a long history of pushing the limits to get an edge. Many riders have used "buzzers," shocking devices to make the horses run faster. Some have fed horses edible marijuana for soreness. And if you hang around the track long enough, you will hear all kinds of stories. Some are pure fantasy; but there are enough cases that almost anything is believable. And if you think it is just the people caught on tape by the FBI, think again. It is widespread, as common as steroid use was in baseball. And it needs to stop.

Many suffer

At its purest, horse racing is a beautiful sport, with equine athletes combining with human athletes in the most authentic of competitions. There are trainers and people connected to the horses who love the animals who make their livelihood, and treat them better than children. But then there are the quick-buck artists who are looking for big paydays; con men and women who are only out for money. They exist in every walk of life, but when they encroach on racing and endanger an animal, they cross the line. They make millions of dollars off of these creatures and squeeze out every penny they can get with no regard for the horses or betting public. These people need to be weeded out of the sport. Monday's arrests should be just the start.

The forgotten group

As someone who bets on the races, this behavior is unacceptable beyond the danger to the animals we all love. They are committing fraud against the horseplayer. Our group is the most under appreciated in racing. Without people betting on the races, there would be no horse racing. Yet the player has little voice. Some tracks actually cater to the player (Sam Houston and Santa Anita among them) but most simply don't care. The criminal element in the sport clearly doesn't care about us, either. And without us, you don't exist. It's way past time somebody recognized that.

Racing needs to take a hard look at itself and clean this up immediately. But will it? Probably not. The reality is that none of these scandals ever brings change.

And that frankly sucks, because there are good people in the sport, and there are those of us who love to bet and watch the athletes at their best.

As horseplayers, we want two simple things: An honest race to bet on and safety for the animals and jockeys that ride them. There are more people who think like that than there are cheaters and criminals, but the latter group is too big, and something needs to be done.

Back to baseball

The scary part is, if there are PEDs that aren't tested for in horse racing, then should we not assume they have trickled into baseball and other sports again, like they did in the first place? Are we buying the "juiced ball" theories again? The big difference is when a baseball player does it, it is his choice, and the damage he does is self-inflicted.

The horses do not have that choice, because these scumbags made it for them.

As a fan of the sport, I am embarrassed. But I am glad they got caught. And I hope they get everyone else who is doing it as well, so we get an honest and fair run for our money from athletes whose lives are not being unnecessarily put at risk.

And I hope this tip of the iceberg does not extend to other sports. Because it certainly has before.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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