Day At The Track

Yonkers gives Lou Pena his marching orders

02:20 PM 31 Jul 2011 NZST
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Lou Pena Lou Pena and his staff Lou Pena preparing a barbeque Jay Hospodarek and Eric O’Neill Lou Pena and SOA President Joe Faraldo Lou Pena Lou Pena is congratulated on being
Lou Pena - I felt sick in my stomach when Steve Starr told me to go!
Lou Pena and his staff
Lou Pena preparing a barbeque - For his workers at the end of a long morning
Jay Hospodarek and Eric O’Neill - Of the Lightning Lane Stable with Lou Pena
Lisa Photo - The Meadowlands
Lou Pena and SOA President Joe Faraldo - Presenting the Leading Trainer award at Yonkers
Lou Pena - Receiving the 'leading trainer' award
Lou Pena is congratulated on being - the Meadowlands top trainer in 2010.
Lisa photo
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Have officialdom at New York's Yonkers Raceway let an accumulated weight of rumor and innuendo sway its decision-making at the expense of an individual's civil and constitutional rights? The track's leading harness racing trainer definitely thinks so.

As of next Thursday night (August 4) Sacramento conditioner Lou Pena will no longer be permitted to train or race his horses at the Empire City Casino track. No reasons were given except for saying “it was in the best interests of harness racing”.

But Pena and most of the harness racing fraternity in North America know he has been banned simply because he’s winning too many races: 435 and ($5.8 million) in just seven months – and just 90 less than his season breaking year in 2010 when he won more than $7.2 million.

“I felt sick in my stomach when secretary Steve Starr told me to go. I couldn’t believe it. None of my horses have ever returned a positive. But I guess Yonkers being a private - track they can turn away who they want.

“I felt like an orphan on the street when they gave me no reason whatsoever. They just said you just gotta go,” Pena told Harnesslink.

The 42-year-old believed the Raceway had contravened America’s Constitution.

“I thought I lived in a country where everyone had equal rights. In any other sport like say basketball, football or baseball success is applauded and the sports people are paid millions of dollars to keep improving.

“Not in harness racing. It’s the only sport I know where the people in the game police each other. At Yonkers it appears that if you succeed you are dubbed a criminal and told to go away.

“To me they are the ‘Jealousy Police’. They are people who don’t work and thrive on authority. And when someone is succeeding they like to eliminate him or her. They are the crooked ones – not me. I have proven that time and time again.

“They are now promoting losers and don’t want a bar of anyone who succeeds. I race to win and don’t like finishing second. Is that a crime? If it is then the world is full of guilty sportsmen and women,” a disgruntled Pena said.

Asked if he now intended to have a lawyer represent him on this latest Yonkers’ stance, Pena replied:

“I’d love to but honestly I don’t think I can. If I had a billion dollars to throw at them maybe, but it’s a private racetrack and I guess they have a right to say what horses race there and which ones don’t.

“I’m hoping someone will come out of the woodwork and back me. I need a hero to go into bat for me and I’m sure there’s someone out there. This story is a good start,” Pena said.

Yonkers is not the only track to give Pena his marching orders.

Even though he’s still racing at the Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural has said he didn’t want him racing there or at his other track Tioga Downs – where he is barred.

“They also changed the conditions twice at The Meadows (Pennsylvania) just because of my horses. They didn’t want my name down as the owner either. Well if that’s not deceiving the betting public then I don’t know what is.

“Every gambler deserves every possible bit of information to win - but at the Meadows they are not giving that out. They call me a cheat – which I’m not! Perhaps they need to look in the mirror and find out the meaning of the word deception,” said Pena who works just over 100 horses with his 30-plus staff..

Since he re-emerged on the United Sates’ East Coast in July 2009 Pena has launched a remarkable assault on harness tracks spanning three different states – all while raising the ire of his peers and other observers.

May 22 last year was supposed to be the international coming out party at the Meadowlands Racetrack for New Zealand pacing sensation Auckland Reactor. Instead, it was the race that would launch harness racing trainer Lou Pena to a new world of fame.

After months of unprecedented hype and worldwide anticipation, Auckland Reactor would be sent post-ward in his North American debut as the well defined even money favorite.

But in that Invitational race, Auckland Reactor never fired and the race was won in eye-raising fashion by Real Joke – a horse who was claimed for $50,000 just a few weeks earlier by Pena’s ‘Lightning Lane Stable’.

‘The Reactor’ would be sent back home shortly thereafter as a monumental disappointment, and at the same time life for Lou Pena would take on a monumental change.

Since then the accusations of cheating and drug use haven’t stopped.

What ensued were relentless investigations by the New Jersey Racing Commission and the United States Trotting Association. There were instances of surprise barn raids where samples would be taken from every horse in the stable - regardless of whether they were in competition or out of competition.

With the racing commission staked outside his barn for weeks on end, following him to the track while at the same time each horse was still being tested, pre and post-race, Pena’s winning never let up, despite it all.

Without mentioning specific names, Pena told Harnesslink that he had spoken with officials who insisted that he take his horses down a notch.

“Officials have called me and said - ‘If you just slow it down a little bit, you’ll be fine’.”

From Pena’s perspective, this – the attempt not to try his hardest – would be cheating. Says Pena, “That’s not ganna happen; it’ll never happen. The day I die it won’t happen, and if I ever believe I have to cheat to be good – I’ll quit completely,” he said.

So where to from now?

“I have always loved harness racing and have always loved horses. When I grew up in Mexico I lived in a cardboard house and we put fat on the roof so the rain wouldn’t wear it away.

“I didn’t grow up rich and when I came to America in the sixth grade I didn’t even own two sets of clothes. Then I fell in love with harness racing.

“I found that horses had no common sense and because I wasn’t that well educated I wanted to live the dream and work with them. The sport eventually made me.

“But now as I’m really starting to succeed in the industry I’m finding it’s not just the horses that lack common sense. I will carry on as before and abide by the rules, but I have no intention of giving my passion away to the foolhardy.

“I left my family in California to set up here and that wasn’t easy. I have no intention of leaving. No - and Canada is not an option,” Pena said.

“I’m going to stay here and make a stand for what I know deep down is right,” he added.

FOOTNOTE: More interviews on this controversial Lou Pena saga will be posted on Harnesslink this week.

For the record Pena trained a further three winners at Yonkers yesterday (Saturday July 30).

His career tally now stands at 2,594 wins and almost $21 million in purses since he first got his license in 1992.


By Duane RANGER (editor)

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