You Can Hang A Man More Than Once

gallows photo: Gallows gallows.jpgRoman Chapa may be the most “shocking” news in racing. Ok, I’ll stop with the electrical humor, but I’ll say the recent news jolted my senses a bit. If you’ve been living under a rock, or if you just don’t like to read about stupid human tricks. Here is the abbreviated version. Chapa was caught carrying an electrical device aboard Quiet Acceleration on January 17, 2015 at Sam Houston Race Park. Coady Photography caught the incident in full-color, and he was given a five year suspension and a $25,000 fine.

Chapa is not a newbie when it comes to carrying a “machine.” In 2007, the New Mexico Racing Commission fined Chapa $1,500 and suspended his  license five years after discovering he possessed an electrical shocking device during a race at Sunland Park, and in 1994, during his first year of competition, Chapa was suspended nine months and fined $2,500 by stewards at the Gillespie County Fair in Texas after the jockey  admitted using a nail on a horse during an Aug. 13 race, according to the Blood Horse articles.

It looks like the picture is coming into full focus, as Roman Chapa is seeking any edge possible when he competes. Not unlike the NBA, NFL, MLB, and every sport on the planet. There are consequences for illegal actions. It is up to the athlete in question to weigh out the punishment versus the crime. In the words of one of my favorite TV detective shows, Beretta. “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” The one and only one I’ve ever seen was the length and width of a credit card and about as thick as half a deck of playing cards. This was twenty years ago, so I’m sure that larcenous horsemen have used current technology to make them smaller by now. The idea seems to be to hit the horse with a machine during a race when the nefarious rider thinks he needs a quick burst of speed to improve his position. It’s only effective for about a thirty yard burst.

I understood the device was worn near the cuff of the jockey’s sleeve, and pressed on the horse’s neck. It’s always a question of how the horse will react to the “machine,” so unscrupulous jockeys were well advised to use the device on a horse in a workout before trying it in a race. Before, during, and after the race, there are a lot of officials watching the action. If a race steward (usually a retired trainer, or sometimes a retired jockey) suspects anything about the jockey, they can be strip-searched. If the machine is found, the rider will be barred from racing not only from the track where he was caught, but usually in any other state whose racing authority has reciprocal agreements. He is also ineligible to work as a trainer. Think about getting hit with a cattle prod to get you back to your cubicle. Would it make you stay away from the water cooler and get your work finished? No, it just seems unfair.

Stewards began the investigation a day after the race after Chapa contacted the track photographer, Coady Photography, about removing from the track’s website a photo from the race that apparently showed the rider holding an object in his  left hand according to the Blood After further investigation, he was fined $25,000 and suspended for five years. In my opinion this is pretty soft as he has been caught twice before. I guess we should have added in for his punishment that he read 100 times the Dick Francis novel, For Kicks. It is about the cruelty of human participants in the sport of kings. Or, maybe we should have let 100 salt of the earth trainers who work 12-hr days line up and take a shot or two. They would never put their horses in danger, and would rather finish up the track honestly than be a part of this activity.

I once read that a condemned man cannot be hung twice. Now, that doesn’t make me an expert, but I think we all get the idea. That is until Texas Racing Commissioner Chuck Trout upped his fine to $100,000 for his two previous suspensions to drive the point home crystal clear. It was in his authority to increase the fine, and just when things look to be bad, they just got a little worse for Mr. Chapa. After reading the entire Blood Horse coverage, I started thinking. Are we sending the right message? If a rider or trainer continues the practice of gaining an illegal edge. Will they stop when they get caught? No.

How about raising the price of poker? For the infraction, the stewards ruled that Chapa violated four rules or racing: possession of  contraband, influence of race prohibited, unlawful influence on racing, and  inhumane treatment of horse or Greyhound. We could take it to a new level. First there is a $50,000 fine, and the person in question is suspended for ten years. For those ten years, the suspended participant is to work with retired, abused, and abandoned race horses. They will have to speak about the effects of using electrical devices, illegally drugging horses, and the many other activities that can take place. Who better to speak on such a subject than one who actually took part? If you think the ten year suspension is harsh. Yes, it is. It will take away the best years of a rider’s life to compete. That is the point, and if they want to walk away and not work to better the game. They are banned for life in every racing jurisdiction. Their picture, prints, and list of offences will be sent to every track around the world. I don’t think they’ll ever pull one over again.