There's an old saying in politics, originating I think in the Watergate scandal, that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. It's a phrase that may as well have evolved in horse racing.
When I recently reviewed 2018's top stories on the Paulick Report, I was reminded of Joe Gorajec's dogged investigation into post-race drug test detections in Pennsylvania that didn't result in positives or regulatory action. (You can find those here, here, and here.) But Pennsylvania isn't the only place where regulators have been presented with evidence of rule violations (or potential rule violations) and appeared to ignore it.
More than six months ago, we brought you the story of Quarter Horse trainer Clinton Crawford, who entered ten horses on the June 2 card at Remington Park. On the evening of June 1, members of the independent AQHA Integrity Team observed a veterinarian in Crawford's stalls, treating horses inside the 24-hour pre-race window for the June 2 races.
Members of the Integrity Team gathered photographic and video evidence of the veterinarian's activities. They interviewed the veterinarian, trying to understand what he was treating the horses with and why. The Team provided this information to the stewards on the night of June 1.
In other jurisdictions, a trainer whose horses were treated within 24 hours of a race might be summarily suspended, his horses scratched, and trainer and veterinarian marched off the grounds until a hearing could take place. None of that happened here.
Three horses would eventually be scratched from the early part of Remington's June 2 card, leaving seven Crawford runners, including 2-year-old Special Candy High, who suffered a fatal breakdown in the Grade 1 Heritage Place Futurity.
Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission Executive Director Kelly Cathey told me in June via email that the OHRC's investigation was ongoing, and no hearings were scheduled at the time – including, I later learned, any sort of hearing or interview with the veterinarian involved.
I have checked in with Cathey on the status of the case in July, August, September, October, and December. Each time he has told me the investigation is ongoing, and that no hearings are scheduled.
Since June 2, Clinton Crawford has saddled horses in 199 starts. He has had 25 stakes runners and two stakes wins. His stable earnings for 2018 were over $1.6 million.
Much as I'd like to, I don't know exactly what happened that night. The post time for the June 2 races was moved one hour earlier than post time on June 1, which could easily cause confusion among horsemen and veterinarians about whether their treatments were in under the wire. The veterinarian may have been giving the horses vitamin or electrolyte jugs. For all I know, the behavior may have been well-intentioned. As yet, the commission has released no documents in the case, so I am left to wonder whether blood or urine samples were taken from the treated horses on the night of June 1. I don't know whether the syringes the veterinarian was seen carrying were tested. I have no idea if the horses who were permitted to run were subjected to any additional testing as a result of the previous night's intelligence. I don't know what was in the stewards' minds when they were given evidence of Crawford's veterinarian treating horses in violation of state rules. I don't know why some horses were scratched and others weren't.
Per state regulation, the body of Special Candy High should have been submitted for necropsy to determine the cause of his fatal injury. This may have included toxicology testing of his tissues, and maybe even blood and urine. I do not know the outcome of that necropsy, or indeed whether one was performed at all. As long as a case is still officially open, the commission may not be compelled to release documents relating to any of this. Once it's closed, that information is part of the public record. I have filed a formal request for these documents and have since learned that unlike other states, Oklahoma's freedom of information laws do not include a deadline by which state officials must provide an answer on whether documents are available. So far, that request has gone unanswered.
What I do know is this: Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission Rule 325:45-1-4 states that a horse should not be treated within 24 hours of a race. Oklahoma's rules don't give a grace period for that 24-hour treatment rule, however. It doesn't say “no violations shall be called and the case shall remain open as long as the licensees involved promise they meant no harm.” It doesn't say “this rule is subject to enforcement only when the stewards deem it necessary.” That isn't how rules work, especially not rules as crucial to integrity as this one.
It seems we are left to imagine what investigative information the commission could possibly be waiting for before taking action. In cases of post-race drug positives, action may be delayed as the commission and trainer wait for a split sample to be independently tested. Here, the contents of the syringes the veterinarian carried would not determine whether a rule was violated – they would only serve to make the action appear more or less defensible.
One of the criticisms I sometimes hear about the Paulick Report is that we linger too long on “negative” stories like drug positives or rule violations. I'm sure Oklahoma officials would prefer I focus my attention elsewhere. I must point out that if a hearing had been held about this incident in June or July, it's unlikely we'd still be talking about it. Cover-ups aren't just worse than their crimes; they're stories in themselves.
The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission has no doubt been hoping the outrage readers had at the Crawford case would fade, if only there were no further developments in the case to write about. Cover-ups can be effective, after all, if people will just forget about the original crime – or in this case, an apparent violation of a serious racing rule. I haven't forgotten about Special Candy High or the other Crawford runners that day. Have you?
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