Irwin: Indiana Commission Actions Don’t Pass Smell Test

by | 10.19.2015 | 9:22am

Absent a smoking gun that would lead to evidence of unethical behavior on the part of Joe Gorajec, the dismissal of the former executive director of the Indiana Racing Commission sends the wrong message to regional and national participants in horse racing.

The reason the commissioners gave for firing the director was that they wanted an employee who was more focused on promoting the horse racing industry and less on enforcing regulations.

The message suggests that the commissioners are more interested in promoting racing.

Gorajec gained national fame and respect for Indiana's uncompromising stance on dealing with horsemen and veterinarians who broke the rules. Gorajec was the toughest cop on the block in Thoroughbred racing in North America and on the cutting edge of identifying illegal substances and unethical practices employed by trainers and vets.

In pushing his hard-nosed agenda, Gorajec did so in the belief that by providing the cleanest racing in the land, horse owners and horse players would respond positively by running horses and betting on horses with more confidence. This, believed Gorajec, would translate into more business at the racetrack and more dollars into the coffers of the State of Indiana.

If one gives the benefit of the doubt to the five commissioners who last week fired the director, one would accept the conclusion that they wanted more promotion for the industry. If this was, in fact, the case, what was the rush to fire Gorajec that necessitated the unprecedented calling of an impromptu weekend meeting at a locale never before used for racing commission business?

If increased promotion actually was the focus of the commissioners' agenda, why not simply sit down with Gorajec, explain this to him and come up with some compromise that would allow the director to continue his brilliant efforts in regulation while perhaps shifting some responsibility to an existing or a new employee?

The high-speed juggernaut to upend Gorajec and move him out of office as quickly as possible does not pass the smell test if the reason is actually a change in direction. It smacks of guilt so odious that the office of the director required instant fumigation.

Reasonable people do not treat a nationally honored and respected racing legend like Joe Gorajec with the contempt displayed by these commissioners.

So based on the behavior of the commission and the inaction of the governor and the operators of the racetrack, one is forced to conclude that the message sent to the racing industry is that something Gorajec did as director was unacceptable to those in power and had little, if anything, to do with the stated reason for Gorajec's outster.

Along the way, Gorajec ruffled more than a few feathers, as his tough stance against cheaters resulted in suspensions and fines to trainers, Standardbred drivers and veterinarians found to be guilty of breaking the rules.

Some of those unhappy with being singled out as cheaters complained and began to float a notion that Indiana was no longer friendly to horsemen. These miscreants very likely convinced some politicians that Gorajec was bad for business and needed to be replaced.

Gorajec, in fact, was friendly to horsemen, but only to those who wanted to play by the rules, not those chronic manipulators who wanted to tilt the playing field to their advantage.

Suspending horsemen with political connections that carry influence all the way to the governor's office is most likely one of the two reasons that Gorajec no longer is employed by the Indiana commission. The other stems from a proposed opinion piece Gorajec wanted to submit for publication in the Paulick Report in late August.

Focus of Gorajec's op-ed piece was his support for pending Federal legislation that would empower the United States Anti-Doping Agency to oversee rules, enforcement and adjudication for drugs in Thoroughbred racing.

In essence, USADA, if appointed by the United States Congress, would replace states as the overseer of drugs in American racing. In effect, USADA would dilute the power of the states in this aspect of its duties to the racing industry.

Gorajec was emphatically told not to submit the piece for publication. He was told in no uncertain terms that he was an employee of the State of Indiana and not the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

The State of Indiana — both its politicians and its racetrack operators — have decided to go down a slippery slope, one in which integrity takes a back seat to an increase in participation of horsemen that will return to ply their trade in a jurisdiction in which the chief law enforcement officer has been kicked out of office for being too tough on crime.

The message is very clear. Integrity is a nice concept, but it comes with a price and that price is a loss of participation from a certain segment of the horse racing world that does not want to play by the rules.

But Indiana has decided to make a trade off, by welcoming cheats instead of excluding them. Indiana has decided to join the dark side and become horsemen friendly. Good luck with that!

Barry Irwin is the founder and CEO of Team Valor International and a member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance

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