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Clubs should embrace radical measures for enforcement

  February 7 , 2024

Given the notable reduction in the number of race days across various race clubs in India, there`s a justified need to review suspensions of professionals. While suspension durations were once clearly defined, they now appear unduly harsh, particularly considering their nationwide implications on a professional`s participation ability, previously, confining suspensions to one racing centre aligned punishment with race days. However, with most centres now hosting only one day of racing per week instead of two, suspensions can disproportionately extend over several months, especially during periods of consecutive racing lasting six to seven days in the winter seasons.

For example, an eight-day suspension could effectively result in a two-month ban, considering the professional may miss over 20 race days when factoring in participation at other centres. This disproportionately affects jockeys, particularly those in high demand nationwide. Even breaches of medication rules warrant reevaluation; punishments are frequently severe and can severely harm a career, as they rely on vicarious responsibility and conjecture rather than concrete evidence. Punishments based on suspicion, assumption, and prejudice are unjustifiable and can be disproportionate, given their widespread impact on the affected professionals across India.

Thoroughbred horses, known for their delicate nature, frequently face physical ailments due to the demands of high-speed running exceeding their physical limits. Many undergo treatment for various issues, often receiving medications similar to those used for humans, tailored to their weight. However, their metabolism varies, leading to differences in drug retention. Post-race testing primarily relies on urine samples, with blood tests only used to confirm drug presence beyond prescribed limits when both samples align. Despite legally administered drugs potentially lingering in urine, administrators often assume clandestine administration, resulting in unfair punishments based on speculation rather than solid evidence. Punishments, ranging from two to ten years, often fail to consider mitigating circumstances. The personal biases of those in positions of judgment, along with the influence exerted by powerful groups, often lead to overly harsh punishments that serve the agendas of vested interests as opposed to the independent perspectives of professionals.

Some clubs, like the Bangalore Turf Club, exhibit bias, presuming all professionals are dishonest and delighting in punitive measures. In a recent case involving trainer Padmanabhan`s horse Adjustment, legally administered Tildren—a drug for bone issues—was wrongly penalized. Tildren, used in cancer treatment, aids bone regeneration and can remain detectable for up to three years. Despite discrepancies between urine and blood tests, the stewards hastily suspended Padmanabhan for two years, disregarding his distinguished record. Punishments for positive drug tests, typically one month, escalate to two years if clubs suspect private administration.

Interestingly, the current Indian Derby winner, Enabler, received Tildren before being eligible, yet no action was taken due to claimed ignorance. In contrast, the Bangalore Turf Club stewards promptly penalized upon discovering Tildren use, despite notification. Inconsistencies in decisions across clubs should confine repercussions to the club of origin, ensuring fairness and adhering to principles of natural justice. Appeals lodged by the aggrieved professionals should be heard by a neutral appeal board, independent of those involved in the same club, to ensure thorough scrutiny of punishment and circumstances. Scientific evidence should be evaluated impartially before confirming punishments.

However, the present system raises concerns, as the stewards who imposed the punishment hold undue influence over the appeal board, as they nominate its members. Under such circumstances, fairness is compromised, as the appeal board tends to endorse the stewards` decisions without giving fair consideration to the aggrieved.

Indeed, any disciplinary measures must prioritize the integrity of the sport while ensuring fairness to professionals, adhering to principles of natural justice. Padmanabhan`s decision to take the club to court highlights the importance of these principles. In the case of his first suspension, the court stayed the punishment, citing a lack of adherence to the principles of natural justice and fair play. Although the punishment had already become irrelevant by that time, the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC), feeling aggrieved by the court`s decision, chose to appeal to the High Court, despite the significant financial costs involved. In their dissatisfaction, they also prohibited Padmanabhan`s wife and owner, Sharmila Padmanabhan, from attending races.

This arbitrary decision sparked concerns among former members of the Managing Committee, prompting inquiries about the rule under which the decision was made. Unable to provide satisfactory answers, the club promptly revoked its decision. This incident underscores the recklessness with which the club can sometimes act, disregarding the potential repercussions and legality of their actions, leading to significant distress and financial losses for those affected, particularly in the event of litigation.

Notably, the RWITC installed cameras in stables with runners during the Indian Derby, hinting at concerns about clean racing. However, the selective application of this measure raises questions. If there`s an acknowledgement that illicit practices might occur, why limit surveillance to Derby Day runners only?

A more effective approach would involve installing permanent cameras in stables and employing video analysis to monitor activities consistently. This proactive stance would help deter drug misuse on all days, rather than just selectively during specific events. The selective application of surveillance measures undermines their purpose and integrity. Such measures must apply uniformly and continuously, without being influenced by external pressures or the interests of certain individuals.

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