Day At The Track

The new four letter word: Pena

09:05 PM 18 Jun 2010 NZST
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I'm going to give up handicapping races. Apparently I no longer need to pour over replays and past performances. All that is required is to select harness racing trainer Lou Pena's horses and walk to the window.

The 41-year-old conditioner scored a five-bagger on Saturday at the Meadowlands and scored seven winners (17 starters) over the previous three-day week at the East Rutherford oval. His 84 wins at the meet place him a remarkable 37 wins ahead of his competition (Ron Burke).

The Pena discussion has run rampant since columnist Andrew Cohen spoke out on www.harnesslink.com; practically insisting that the trainer must be cheating. Since then Harness Eye contributor Brett Sturman interviewed Pena, allowing him to tell his side of the story. Next up was Chris Wittstruck's piece on www.ustrotting.com, giving a more legal thought process of what is logical and realistic.

In a nutshell, a large portion of the harness community is under the impression that Pena must be using some illegal measures in order to achieve the substantial success he has seen in 2010.

A look at the cold hard numbers paints an interesting picture. Eight trainers are currently sending horses to the Meadowlands winner's circle at a clip of 20 percent or higher. Pena is tied for second on the list with Nat Varty at 26 percent. Both trainers trail Peter Kleinhans who is sporting a healthy 31 percent clip.

Going a step further, on the national scene, Pena is second in total wins (189) and scoring with 30 percent of his horses. Third in wins is Erv Miller at 108. He is clicking at a 27 percent clip. Ed Hensley is winning 32 percent. Julie Miller and Robert McIntosh are both at almost 31 percent. Paul Holzman, who has most of his starts at Pompano Park and Hazel, has sent out 49 winners in just 123 races for just shy of a 40 percent win rate.

Judging purely by the above numbers, perhaps Pena is not doing something that is completely out of the ordinary. No one is calling for the heads of any of the previously named trainers. So why Pena?

Win rates only tell part of the story. Where those percentages are lacking is in the times. Multiple horses have entered the Pena barn and instantly lowered their lifetime mark by one, two, three or even four seconds. The prime example is typically Real Joke. He set his lifetime mark of 1:50.3 on a beautiful 79 degree day in early May for former trainer Julie Miller. Two weeks later, now in the Pena barn, the gelded son of Real Desire paced in 1:48.4. Real Joke then followed that performance with consecutive 1:47.3 miles; the second time in history a horse paced faster than 1:48 in consecutive weeks. Mega Lightning is another good example. He had never paced a winning mile faster than 1:53.2. Shortly after entering Pena's barn, the gelding went in 1:50.2 and eventually 1:48.2. Does that mean that Pena is doing something illegal?

Whether Pena is using some illicit substance is not my call. Though, I have come to learn that when something is too good to be true it usually is. If it is proven down the road that his actions were not on the up and up, he will join a long line of trainers which took a nice chunk of money out of the game before fading off into obscurity.

Many reports say that Pena's barn was recently raided by the NJ Racing Commission. Blood samples were taken from a large portion of his horses. Will anything be found? I'm not expecting it. Testing for illegal substances is a flawed procedure and more often than not the alleged cheaters are way ahead of the testing facilities.

Is it at all possible that Lou Pena is just a master trainer who has found the key to unleashing the hidden potential in many horses? Yeah, I guess that could be the case. Maybe he possesses a keen equine sense which goes above and beyond the everyday trainer's understanding.

I propose that Mr. Pena owes it to the harness community around the world to divulge his training tactics. If he has a secret method of shoeing, jogging, training, rigging or legally treating horses to make them reach their utmost abilities, then it is simply not fair for him to keep that knowledge all to himself.

I don't expect him to simply give away his secrets. Trainers who feel they cannot compete should be allowed to pay Mr. Pena a one-time fee. To keep from saturating the market with too many good trainers he could limit his clientele to one per month. That should protect Mr. Pena's financial interests while still helping the harness community stay on a level playing field. Think of it as a good way of bringing parody to the racing world. By the time he is ready to retire, Pena would have successfully leveled the playing field for the entire racing community. He would be heralded as the savior of the sport who was able to beat the drug problems by teaching us how to make speed the old fashioned way - with hard work.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to e-mail me at dgiwner@drf.com.

Derick Giwner

(With permission from Harness Eye / www.harnesscharts.com)

 

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