It's been almost 42 years since the “Saturday Night Massacre” of Oct. 20, 1973, when President Richard Nixon ordered his attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
In a dramatic turn of events, Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than execute Nixon's order and so, too, did Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. The third man in line, Solicitor General Robert Bork, carried out the dismissal of Cox, who was fired by Nixon, essentially, for doing too good a job in uncovering the facts behind an event that 10 months later would lead to the only resignation in the history of the U.S. presidency.
A different kind of political massacre is unfolding in horse racing at the local level, though it will have ripple effects throughout the country.
Shockingly, Joe Gorajec, who for nearly 25 years has been executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, has gotten word he is being fired this Saturday by his politically appointed superiors.
The reason? In my opinion, it's because Gorajec has done too good a job in regulating horse racing and attempting to ensure integrity for those who participate as owners, trainers or bettors. He has stepped on toes, and some of those toes may belong to people who have friends in high places in Indiana politics.
The Indiana Horse Racing Commission, under Gorajec's direction, has been, without question, a national leader in regulatory oversight on any number of fronts.
His pending dismissal from a commission led by former state Sen. Thomas Weatherwax would be a huge blow to the integrity of Indiana racing and to national efforts to improve the sport's public image.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who may or may not be aware of these political machinations, ultimately will be held responsible if the oversight of Indiana horse racing – an unqualified bright spot on the national front – devolves into something akin to Pennsylvania's haphazard regulation of a sport mired in scandal.
“I have been given information that the commission is going to give me an ultimatum, and that is resign or be fired,” Gorajec told the Paulick Report after rumors of his demise began to circulate throughout the national horse racing community. “I have absolutely no knowledge of any wrongdoing on my part.”
Weatherwax could not be reached and did not return a voice message left on his cell phone asking for an explanation. Vice chairman Greg Schenkel would not speak on the matter, saying only that “there's been no commission action” and deferred further comment to Weatherwax.
Before he is forced to walk down the political gangplank, let's review some of the accomplishments by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission under Gorajec's leadership.
—Nearly 10 years ago, an initiative called Integrity '06 incorporated stiffer penalties, tighter backstretch security and enhanced drug testing. This program was a first-in-the-nation attempt to monitor veterinary activity in a racetrack's stable area, among other things requiring racetracks to hire security guards to shadow vets as they treated horse's on race day. It also was the first program to do away with the automatic transfer of a suspended trainer's horses to a family member, assistant trainer or other employee.
—The Indiana Horse Racing Commission, unlike many other states, consistently has rejected licensing applications from individuals with the most heinous racing infractions or associations with known members of organized crime. Being licensed in another state does not automatically give someone the privilege of racing in Indiana.
—Serious drug violations, including prohibited race-day treatments, have led to stiff penalties, not only against trainers responsible for the horses in their care but the veterinarians who were involved. At least three veterinarians have received suspensions of one year or more in recent times. Earlier this summer, as one example, the commission suspended a standardbred trainer 10 years for a blood-doping violation.
—Every commission ruling during Gorajec's tenure has held up in the court system. Not once has a suspension, even the harshest ones for multiple years, been overturned through a legal challenge.
—Indiana last year became the first U.S. racing jurisdiction to recognize through unannounced testing that cobalt was being abused at an alarming rate. Emergency regulations and a test program were put in place ahead of any other state, the result being that a substance harmful to horses and potentially performance enhancing has been, for the most part, eliminated.
—Earlier this year, the Indiana Horse Racing Commission embarked on an ambitious quality assurance audit of its official testing laboratory, Truesdail, the California-based lab that tests in more than a dozen other states, including Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. Essentially, split samples were sent to a different lab for back-up screening, and the results were shocking: Truesdail missed seven positive tests over a 26-day period, including a Class 1 drug. In four of the seven instances, Truesdail was given a second chance to re-test the samples but still failed to detect what were commonly used medications. The commission moved quickly to change labs.
No other state or national organization, including the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium or the Association of Racing Commissioners International, has successfully implemented a quality assurance program of this type.
“There is a huge risk involved,” Gorajec said, “especially when you're trying to be transparent. You have to live with the results, whether you like them or not. That's why a lot of states are reluctant to do these initiatives, because they can't control the outcome. When you have an honest audit, when you have an integrity based, double-blind program, you're really going out on a limb.”
That limb is about to snap under the weight of Gorajec's accomplishments.
If Gov. Pence allows Indiana Horse Racing Commission chairman Weatherwax to go forward with plans to dismiss Gorajec after 25 exemplary years on the job, it will be a serious assault on the sport's integrity, well beyond the borders of the Hoosier State.
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