The response to my article yesterday about Lou Pena and Real Joke was as disappointing as it was predictable. Although I received dozens and dozens of private expressions of support and gratitude for digging deeper into the controversy, the public reaction was mostly muted.
*** Ed Note: For those that missed the original story please follow this link ***
Industry leaders and foot soldiers within harness racing evidently are still more comfortable whispering about integrity in private instead of putting their names on the line in public support of changing a status quo which has become nearly untenable. "The sport needs superstars and right now Lou is the Superstar of the sport," said one Darwin Award nominee."We all know what's happening, we just don't know what they are doing. Nobody is that smart," wrote a longtime Canadian horseman.
There were those in the "innocent until proven guilty" camp. Like Keith Gisser. He wrote: "Pena may be as dirty as the guys at Lehman Brothers, or he may indeed have just found a key to these horses. Let's wait and see how this plays out before we get too carried away. There seems to be an inherent bitterness in this sport that does not serve it well. Anytime someone succeeds, there is an eagerness to point fingers and call them a chemist, a cheat, a thief. But for me, I prefer innocent until proven guilty. Now, if you want to talk about the idiocy of appealed suspension and allowing known cheats to continue racing-- that is a different story."
"As an attorney," Jonathan Klee wrote. "I'm a true believer that you are innocent until proven guilty. However, with that said, the percentages and results being put up seem beyond the realm of possibility.I have seen many horses drastically improve over time and a few even go from claimers to open classes but when multiple horses upon being claimed from other top trainers show these types of improvement in such a short period of time one has to shake their head." As I said in my initial piece, presumptions of innocence ultimately must be challenged by what we see with our own eyes and what common sense tells us to be true.
Thankfully, few readers even bothered to comment upon Pena's discrimination charges against industry leaders, although more than one person pointed out that Pena evidently was born in California and thus probably shouldn't have used the "English is my second language" line as an explanation for what some called his boasting of "an edge" for his horses. Pena's USTA records go back as far as 1984. You may reach your own conclusions about whether Pena has been a victim of poor translation from English to Spanish.
And there were several who didn't quite read carefully enough. For example, an anonymous poster wrote: "Just reading you article as I type my response and it so funny that you talk about a positive Lou received in 1991. Hey Andrew, any major positives or suspensions in the last 9-10 months or the last 19 years??" According to records on file with the United States Trotting Association, and as I alluded to in my initial column, Lou Pena had several major drug-related violations during his time at Cal-Expo last decade. These occurred in 2006 and 2005 and twice in 2004 and thrice in 2003 and once in 2002 and once in 2000. Evidently he was driving only during the 1990s following a six-month suspension from Garden State Parkway by the New Jersey Racing Commission. Why the Commission took him back last year is a mystery.
Still, there were other opinions that were encouraging to read. Here is what one small-time East Coast harness insider wrote: "As a horse owner and follower of all harness racing around the US, I have only seen the likes of this domination one other time in recent memory, remember Eric and Seldon Ledford? Pena's horses race in ways that you do not normally see, monster miles. He claims horses at Pocono moves them up and they take life marks at will. How can someone claim a horse from Andy Miller and move the horse up 5 seconds, they are sharper and working harder? I have no proof but what I see and know, but I think not!"
But this was by far my favorite comment, from a member of one of harness racing's dynasties. "The whole sport currently is very discouraging and disheartening as a son in a family growing up loving the sport and you wrote a thought provoking article which I commend you for. With the uncertainty of the future of the sport and bearded trainers and the lengthy appeals, it is as if there is a backstretch mentality of do what you can do and try to steal the most money you can until it runs out...."
Andrew Cohen is a Standardbred owner, breeder and writer.