Gilligan: Some Trainers Cheat, Some Are Horse Whisperers

There’s an old saying that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.

It is a statistical certainty that some racehorse trainers are dishonest cheats, because in any given population there are a certain number of people who will cheat to win and since cheating can confer an edge, you are more likely to find cheats amongst the more successful members of a group — until, if or when they get caught. Lance Armstrong is a very famous example.

Studies have been done on the human tendency to cheat. One study found MBA students cheat more than any other groups of students. Another study asked subjects to roll a die and if they reported rolling a one through five, they’d get that number of dollars. If they rolled a six they would get nothing.

Apparently the number six was not rolled as much as it should have been and number five was rolled an awful lot. In fact, 60% of the rolls were misreported. When the same study was done on a computer so the results could be monitored and compared to what the subjects reported, 15% of people didn’t even bother pressing the random number producer to get a number. They just reported that they rolled a five. They were the most dishonest souls of all.

If people will cheat for $5 what would they be tempted to do to win millions? If Lance Armstrong would inject himself with substances to gain an edge, what might someone be prepared to give an animal?

Natalie Voss recently wrote a great piece in The Paulick Report about why the media doesn’t call out the suspected cheats in the sport, explaining clearly that without proof journalists’ hands are tied.

So, in the absence of evidence, how might the cheater be identified?

I don’t know how many race horse trainers have an MBA, but the ones that do must be assumed guilty until proven otherwise.

Studies suggest dishonest people are less happy than honest people (that guilty conscience). So any trainers who seem to possess a rather weepy and dejected countenance should set alarm bells ringing.

‘There is a saying in golf that people who cheat in life don’t always cheat at golf, but people who cheat at golf invariably cheat in life. Perhaps before getting licensed all trainers should have to play a round of golf with a state steward and later in the clubhouse roll some dice.

The Voss article provoked a lot of commentary, and perhaps the question that rang truest was that as far as horsemen goes, how do some horsemen seem to glean great improvement from so many of their horses if they’re not cheating? Is it possible to improve a horse by many lengths?

As a horseman I can tell you categorically that great improvement can be made in a horse’s performance without a needle, and I would like to give a couple of examples of my own.

Kind Emperor came into my life as a 4-year-old maiden who’d raced 29 times. He was a good galloper, a fairly strong type and flightier than a bird.

I let him do one good gallop a day (horses often do two gallops a morning in Europe) and very seldom breezed him. I decided to move him up in distance from the sprints he had raced exclusively in to a mile and told the jockey not to fight the horse, to let him run and use his stride.  He won second time out and went on to seven career victories winning at distances up to a mile and a half and gaining himself a little fan club at Yarmouth – the only track he decided he would win at – for his exuberant freewheeling front running style, often going ten lengths clear of the field by halfway through a race.

Rushcutter Bay was a horse I bought as a yearling for 450 guineas. He had less pedigree than me and was small, but he was perfectly formed.

He was always a good horse winning his maiden second time out as a 2-year-old at Royal Windsor. He became a high-class handicapper running in the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot a couple of times.

We were having some non-specific problems with his back end one year that neither myself our vets or physiotherapist could diagnose, so I contacted Mary Bromiley, the most renowned equine physiotherapist in the UK. She was in her late sixties by then, but still practicing although fussy about who she treated due to being in such demand. She agreed to take him. I sent him to her and she kept him about ten days. On the third day she called and said she had no idea what was wrong with his back but asked if he tended to duck right a bit coming out of the gate and was he sometimes a bit slow away. I said yes, he had been doing both. She said there was a minor ligament in his right hock that was bothering him slightly.

She told me that in his next race he may do the same from the gate out of habit, but after that he would jump straight and fast. She was right.

I eventually found a world renowned equine neurologist and told him about Rushcutter’s problem. He diagnosed a problem with a nerve in the saddle area being affected by having a rider upon him.

After rest he resumed training and we took to warming him up in a lunge ring with no rider, then myself or another would be legged up as close to the gallop as possible and would stand in the irons while he danced the dozen or so yards onto it.  At the end of the gallop someone else would be  waiting with a lead rein, we would whip off the saddle and hand walk him the half mile home home, letting him pick grass along the way.

Three runs later he won the Rous Stakes at Newmarket bet from 50-1 down to 20-1. The handicapper raised him 20 pounds for his efforts. First time out the following year he won the Palace House Stakes again at Newmarket. The handicapper raised him another nine pounds for that win which made him, if I remember rightly, the highest rated sprinter in the country, indeed in Europe at the time.

I didn’t eke out huge improvement from all horses that were sent to me, or even most of them. Most of the small string of horses I trained were cheap and modest when they arrived and cheap and modest when they left.

I know, as a racehorse trainer, that if I did manage to improve one, exactly how it was improved, and the reasons behind it. So, the media should not and cannot call out a trainer after a race because a horse in his care has improved greatly. But perhaps they could and should ask the trainer exactly how the horse has achieved such improvement. And the trainer should be falling over themselves to explain how clever they are, the way I just did.

Elon Musk says he asks engineers who interview for his companies a question he relies heavily on. “Tell me about a problem you have solved, and how you did it.”  Musk says the more detailed and technical their answer, the more it confirmed the honesty of their answer and their expertise.

Patrick Gilligan has been active in the racing industry for 38 years. He briefly rode races, galloped horses for 30 years, trained in Europe and has worked as an assistant in the United States. He is the author of ‘Around Kentucky With The Bug,’ which chronicles his son Jack’s experiences as a jockey and was nominated for the 2018 Tony Ryan Book Award.

The post Gilligan: Some Trainers Cheat, Some Are Horse Whisperers appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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