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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Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy are out for the season.Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston starters Cristian Javier and José Urquidy are both scheduled to have right elbow surgery, a big blow to an Astros team trying to rebound after a terrible start to the season.

General manager Dana Brown made the announcement Wednesday, saying Urquidy will have surgery Wednesday while Javier's is set for Thursday.

“Right now, they are both having an elbow surgery,” Brown said. “We’re not sure to the extent of it, but Tommy John is certainly a possibility talking with both of them.”

Both players will miss the entire season and would miss part of next season if Tommy John surgery is needed, with the typical recovery from the ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery taking 12-18 months.

Recovery from internal brace, which uses artificial material to make the repair, has allowed pitchers to return to the majors in as little as nine months.

The Astros already were dealing with injuries to their rotation, with starters Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers not pitching yet this season because of injuries and not expected to return until after the All-Star break.

But Brown said he believes the Astros' rotation, which is led by Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, will be just fine despite the injuries because Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Ronel Blanco have filled in nicely.

“Losing Urquidy and Javier is tough, but thank God, we have the young kids stepping up and they’re starting to throw the ball well,” Brown said. “So I think our rotation's pretty good right now. You never want to lose those type of arms, but there’s no panic because our guys are really throwing well.”

Houston, which has reached the AL Championship Series in each of the last seven seasons, entered Wednesday's games in third place in the AL West with a 28-34 record.

Brown said the injuries won't change how he approaches things leading up to the trade deadline on July 30.

“We’re always in the market for pitching because of reasons like this,” he said. “I’ve been in baseball for 34 years and I know how long and how tough the season is. It’s a grind of 162 and so we’re always in the market of claiming pitchers... and we’re always trying to add to the depth. And so it’s business as usual, we don’t wait until things fall apart before we find answers.”

Urquidy hasn’t pitched this season after straining his right forearm in spring training. He appeared close to coming off the injured list before he left a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Sugar Land with right elbow inflammation on May 24.

The 29-year-old had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and made his big league debut two years later. He was 3-3 with a 5.29 ERA in 10 starts and six relief appearances last season.

In five major league seasons, Urquidy is 27-16 with a 3.98 ERA in 70 starts and nine relief appearances.

Javier was 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA in seven starts for Houston this season. He was placed on the injured list with right forearm discomfort on May 24.

The 27-year-old is 33-18 with a 3.59 ERA in 116 career appearances with 82 starts over five MLB seasons.

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This story has been corrected to show that the elbow surgery Javier and Urquidy are both facing might not be Tommy John surgery.

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