Fast Horses and Fast Judgements

May 27, 2020

I have often said, in only half jest, that Google rules the world. The internet search engine has evolved to almost an untouchable entity with so much more knowledge and influence than most even begin to comprehend. Social media does some good things. It connects old friends, creates new ones, spreads knowledge and information in real time across the world. The internet has been a game changer. That is no secret. It is also no secret that with most good also comes bad. We have gone from actual experts, to self proclaimed experts, on every topic you can imagine. No PHD or training required. All one needs is a keyboard and an internet connection, and they are instantly empowered. The anonymity the internet purports to allow emboldens these instantly empowered users. Often a post can go viral and turn someone who maybe 25 people in the world knew of, to someone 10 million people now know of. It can happen over the span of a few hours. Whatever the results may be, that is just collateral damage.

By nature many people can be cruel. Mob mentalities often rule, and it has been that way since very early in the keeping of time. Most are fast to become sheep when it suits their agenda. Look at the political climate in the United States today, as you won’t find many better examples than this. We are probably more divided today than we were in the times leading up to and during the Civil War. This is a pretty strong argument against evolution in my opinion, at least on a human decency and intellectual basis. People use all sorts of things to justify, no pun intended here, to validate their agendas. God is one of my favorites. I think Susan B. Anthony put it best when she said:

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

So, where have we wound up with this social media and internet thing? YouTube is taking down videos that might insult the Chinese. Torturing animals and Holocaust videos are fine though. Twitter is deciding which of the President’s tweets are true and permissible on the platform. Cursing and insulting people based on just about anything stands along with language and pornographic images no child or lady should be exposed to. At least not in my opinion. Who even knows what Facebook and some of these other platforms allow or disallow day to day. It is social media as long as it fits the agenda of the day.

Another thing that is no secret is that the internet and social media eradicated print newspapers and magazines. The true journalist is also pretty much a thing of the past. It is click bait and get it out first. It does not have to even be true, it just has to be first. Hit pieces seem to do very well as they prey on the innate mob mentality always waiting to surface and pounce. Fortunately, I do not consider myself a journalist and don’t hold myself to those standards. I am not a reporter. I am just a high school drop-out and life long racetracker, who happened to start a horse racing column that became popular. I call it how I see it.

To the matters at hand. Just about the entire US racing community is weighing in and rushing to judgement on the Bob Baffert situation in Arkansas. An anonymous Twitter account, who is not all that anonymous to many Twitter users was the first I know of to spread the word Charlatan had come up positive for an illegal substance. In reality in the hours leading up to the anonymous account tweet announcing the “news” private messages were flying around the platform spreading the rumor. It is fairly obvious now that we know split sample test results are pending, at least one person with knowledge of the incident chose to leak it or make sure it became public, even if prematurely and in violation of Arkansas confidentiality rules. I guess if you are Bob Baffert, or anyone with a target on their back individuals can decide whether the rules apply to you or not. Does it fit their agenda? Even the drug in question is out there and it is allegedly lidocaine. The anonymous Twitter account triggered the mob mentality on social media, and all the experts, judges, juries, haters, and executioners are salivating and weighing in with the vigor we’ve come to expect from them. If I were a defense attorney, I’d ask for a change of venue to a different galaxy.

Please try and keep in mind I am not condoning or defending whatever Bob Baffert may have done or not done in Arkansas. To my knowledge he was not even there. I can’t condone or defend what happened in Arkansas, nor could I, nor anyone else fair minded and objective attack it. I simply don’t know what did or did not happen and it is highly likely neither do you. I do believe facts should be known before any human being is attacked and dragged across the coals because of pre conceived notions, opinions, agendas, envy, hate, or anything else. I do not think there is any question that is what is happening here.

The anonymous Twitter account did not just trigger the social media mob mentality. It also embarrassed the so called racing media to report the incident, with whatever information they could come up with. Obviously they could not be first anymore.

The following comes from a Horse Racing Nation article:

“Bernie Hettel, Arkansas’ state steward, confirmed with Horse Racing Nation that two horses on the card tested positive for a banned substance, and that split samples would head to a referee lab at their trainers’ choosing before a ruling could be made.”

The following is from the Paulick Report:

The Louisville-Courier Journal reported Tuesday that trainer Bob Baffert had two horses test positive “for banned substances” during the Oaklawn meet, according to an unnamed source. The source did not identify the two horses specifically that said one of them was either Charlatan or Nadal, both of whom accumulated points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby on the May 2 card. The Daily Racing Form later identified Charlatan as the source of one positive test. Baffert had a third winner on that card — a 3-year-old filly named Gamine.

If Arkansas rules call for confidentiality prior to a stewards ruling, and further, if that is the norm and precedent of how these matters are usually handled in Arkansas, then it is obvious someone who is not Bob Baffert did not follow the rules. I am all for transparency. I believe the sport needs more not less of it. Rules need to be changed in an official manner not at the whim of an agenda. I get that people who bet, and I am one of them, should have the right to know more information than they currently do. That does not trump, again no pun intended, current rules it only highlights the need to change and amend them. I believe we all should ultimately know what happened, even under the current rules, but when the facts are all available not just selectively leaked information to trigger a lynch mob.

Bob Baffert issued the following statement in response to what transpired:

“The rules of the Arkansas Racing Commission mandate confidentiality concerning any investigation into an alleged rule violation until there is a written decision of the Stewards, I am extremely disappointed that, in this instance, the Commission has not followed its own rules on confidentiality. I am hoping for an expedited investigation and look forward to being able to speak soon about any written decision of the Stewards, if and when it becomes necessary and I’m allowed to under the Commission’s confidentiality rules.”

Regardless of what may or may not have happened in Arkansas, Bob Baffert, regardless of how anyone may feel or think about him, or whatever judgements have already been made, is following the rules as he understands them and waiting to address what happened at the appropriate time.

This is a critical time in the history of the Sport of Kings. The very survival of the game as we know it is far from a certainty. We as an industry are up against so much. It is as close to a stacked deck as you can get, and it is not stacked our way. Accordingly, while it is more important than ever we be transparent and put the horses first, it is equally important we know what we are talking about prior to besmirching anyone, especially a central figure in the sport. Thinking and knowing are not the same thing. It is crucial we move to drug free racing, a centralized governing body, uniformity and fair but harsh enforcement of rules, and eliminate those who violate the rules from the sport. In order to do that we have to keep our eyes on the ball and stay factual not let the mobs rule.

If you are fair, and believe in justice, and Bob Baffert indeed knowingly did something wrong to help win the Arkansas Derby, or any other race at the Hot Springs meet, you’ll get your chance to join the mob. If he didn’t and you “beat the gate” you’ll be declared a non starter. As a betting man, I think this will play out to the haters’ dismay. We shall see, they just broke from the gate, the race is not over.

Photo: Charlatan, Associated Press

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Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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