FALCON POINTS

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

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

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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Have the Astros turned a corner? Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

After finishing up with the Guardians the Astros have a rather important series for early May with the Seattle Mariners heading to town for the weekend. While it’s still too early to be an absolute must-win series for the Astros, losing the series to drop seven or nine games off the division lead would make successfully defending their American League West title that much more unlikely.

Since their own stumble out of the gate to a 6-10 record the Mariners have been racking up series wins, including one this week over the Atlanta Braves. The M’s offense is largely Mmm Mmm Bad, but their pitching is sensational. In 18 games after a 4-8 start, the Mariners gave up five runs in a game once. In the other 17 games they only gave up four runs once. Over the 18 games their starting pitchers gave up 18 earned runs total with a 1.44 earned run average. That’s absurd. Coming into the season Seattle’s starting rotation was clearly better on paper than those of the Astros and Texas Rangers, and it has crystal clearly played out as such into the second month of the schedule.

While it’s natural to focus on and fret over one’s own team's woes when they are plentiful as they have been for the Astros, a reminder that not all grass is greener elsewhere. Alex Bregman has been awful so far. So has young Mariners’ superstar Julio Rodriguez (though not Breggy Bad). A meager four extra base hits over his first 30 games were all Julio produced down at the ballyard. That the Mariners are well ahead of the Astros with J-Rod significantly underperforming is good news for Seattle.

Caratini comes through!

So it turns out the Astros are allowed to have a Puerto Rican-born catcher who can hit a little bit. Victor Caratini’s pedigree is not that of a quality offensive player, but he has swung the bat well thus far in his limited playing time and provided the most exciting moment of the Astros’ season with his two-out two-run 10th inning game winning home run Tuesday night. I grant that one could certainly say “Hey! Ronel Blanco finishing off his no-hitter has been the most exciting moment.” I opt for the suddenness of Caratini’s blow turning near defeat into instant victory for a team that has been lousy overall to this point. Frittering away a game the Astros had led 8-3 would have been another blow. Instead, to the Victor belong the spoils.

Pudge Rodriguez is the greatest native Puerto Rican catcher, but he was no longer a good hitter when with the Astros for the majority of the 2009 season. Then there’s Martin Maldonado.

Maldonado’s hitting stats with the Astros look Mike Piazza-ian compared to what Jose Abreu was doing this season. Finally, mercifully for all, Abreu is off the roster as he accepts a stint at rookie-level ball in Florida to see if he can perform baseball-CPR on his swing and career. Until or unless he proves otherwise, Abreu is washed up and at some point the Astros will have to accept it and swallow whatever is left on his contract that runs through next season. For now Abreu makes over $120,000 per game to not be on the roster. At his level of performance, that’s a better deal than paying him that money to be on the roster.

Abreu’s seven hits in 71 at bats for an .099 batting average with a .269 OPS is a humiliating stat line. In 2018 George Springer went to sleep the night of June 13 batting .293 after going hitless in his last four at bats in a 13-5 Astros’ win over Oakland. At the time no one could have ever envisioned that Springer had started a deep, deep funk which would have him endure a nightmarish six for 78 stretch at the plate (.077 batting average). Springer then hit .293 the rest of the season.

Abreu’s exile opened the door for Joey Loperfido to begin his Major League career. Very cool for Loperfido to smack a two-run single in his first game. He also struck out twice. Loperfido will amass whiffs by the bushel, he had 37 strikeouts in 101 at bats at AAA Sugar Land. Still, if he can hit .225 with some walks mixed in (he drew 16 with the Space Cowboys) and deliver some of his obvious power (13 homers in 25 games for the ex-Skeeters) that’s an upgrade over Abreu/Jon Singleton, as well as over Jake Meyers and the awful showing Chas McCormick has posted so far. Frankly, it seems unwise that the Astros only had Loperfido play seven games at first base in the minors this year. If McCormick doesn’t pick it up soon and with Meyers displaying limited offensive upside, the next guy worth a call-up is outfielder Pedro Leon. In January 2021 the Astros gave Leon four million dollars to sign out of Cuba and called him a “rapid mover to the Major Leagues.” Well…

Over his first three minor league seasons Leon flashed tools but definitely underwhelmed. He has been substantially better so far this year. He turns 26 May 28. Just maybe the Astros offense could be the cause of fewer Ls with Loperfido at first and Leon in center field.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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