Penn National

Penn National

Chad B. Harmon

Grist For The Mill

Racing Commentary with Bob Barry

In a living, breathing language such as English, there are no safe havens for innocent words and phrases. For example, the once-innocuous term "sausage-making" has lately become a pejorative. 

It's now a metaphor for the distasteful process by which things such as committee reports and legislation typically get made. This linguistic development is certainly unfair to actual sausage-makers, but it accurately reflects the horse-trading that seems to pollute today's political outcomes.

America's courtrooms supposedly exist on a higher plane. Over the centuries, an old Greek saying on another subject has morphed into a popular maxim on fairness and the law: "The wheels of justice grind slow and fine."

But this phrase seems only half-right. The pace of today's court proceedings still resembles the slow dripping of honey from a spoon. It's the "fine" part that leaves one wondering.

This commentator doesn't pretend to know the intricacies of the applicable laws that resulted in a split decision in the case of United States vs. Rojas June 30. But of greater importance, this commentator doesn't care a whit about all the attendant legal mumbo-jumbo.

If this case against Thoroughbred trainer Murray Rojas proved anything, it proved that the specter of being subjected to legislative sausage-making pales in comparison to having racing's grist fed into the slowly turning wheels of justice.

The prosecution's star witness, trainer Stephanie Beattie, is an admitted cheater who testified that "95% to 98%" of trainers at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course facilitated the use of illegal race day medications because they knew authorities "weren't testing for those drugs at that time" (in early 2013).

Apologists for the status quo will trumpet the fact that Rojas was acquitted on the most serious charges: wire fraud. But with the damning testimony provided by Beattie and veterinarian Fernando Motta, Rojas could have been cleared on all charges and racing still would have come out the loser.

Not only did the sworn testimony serve to confirm what many horseplayers—armed with only speed figures and past performances—have long suspected. It is also fodder to those who would suggest that Penn National is somehow representative of all of American racing.

That phrase about the slowness and efficacy of "justice" is actually from an early Greek poet's line about divine retribution. "The millstones of the gods grind late, but they grind fine." 

This idea of divine retribution, that those who have transgressed in this life will pay a penalty in another, is a pleasant concept but a wholly ineffective operating system.

Justice is not a wheel that grinds fine. It's merely the last hope of a civilization struggling to control the worst impulses of its citizenry. And if United States vs. Rojas is a fair example, defenders of racing's status quo must hope that it is avoided at all costs.