The past few weeks have been terrible ones for the harness racing game with many major tracks being shut down due to the coronavirus epidemic sweeping North America and then later in the week, news out of New York that many of the game’s prominent harness racing and thoroughbred trainers, 29 in all, had been arrested.

The on-going virus situation has changed our way of life, curtailing normal everyday travel and restricting movements even within this province. There’s no hockey to watch, no basketball, various tournaments cancelled and traffic has been halted everywhere. From a harness racing perspective, the 29 indictments handed down by the New York FBI to some of the biggest names in the harness racing and thoroughbred world is not front page news, which it would have been except for the Coronavirus outbreak. I suppose that lessens the damage somewhat but let’s be realistic, this is a terrible story for all of horse racing.

Early last week, Nick Surrick, Chris Marino, Rick Dane Jr and Richard Banca, the leading dash winning trainer at Yonkers, had been indicted and on Friday Rene Allard, the 3rd leading trainer in the USA last year, had been arrested as he was getting ready to fly back to New York from a Las Vegas vacation.

Allard currently trails only Banca in the wins category at Yonkers and he is the leading trainer at Pocono Downs. There is no sugar coating any of this, it’s a huge black eye for the sport.

According to the indictments, the charges range from mis-branding and distribution of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, to causing death to a horse which in the state of New York is a felony that carries a five year prison term. The FBI stated that the indictments do not contain all the evidence of wrongdoing but it’s enough for the charges to be laid and it’s a scandal of enormous proportions.

The saddest part of the whole mess is the FBI wire-tap of veterinarian Louis Grasso in conversation with Ross Cohen, an alleged distributor of Performance Enhancers who asks, “what’s going on with the Allard death camp”. This quote is all over the social media and although Rene is not part of the conversation and may not be guilty of anything but bad luck, it nevertheless makes his case difficult to defend, at least in the court of public opinion. It is quite possible the horse died of colic which would clear Allard to some extent; nevertheless, causing death to an animal in New York is also a felony and carries significant jail term if convicted.

The sad part in all of this is that Rene Allard is a likeable individual and he has been a significant part of Old Home Week and the Gold Cup and Saucer helping to salvage the Cup and Saucer a few years ago when it looked like there would be a shortage of Invitational horses. Chris Oakes was here as well with Scott Rocks, and he too has been charged.

Rene had agreed to speak at Summerside Raceway’s annual banquet next month, April 11 but that has been cancelled.Whether he is guilty or not, that will be decided in the courts and although some purists suggest, “one is innocent until proven guilty”, right now the court of public opinion is tearing all of the accused apart.

Breeding Conference - A Worthwhile Experience

Last week’s Breeders Conference staged and hosted by Red Shores Charlottetown attracted a good crowd and proved once again that Prince Edward Island is harness racing country. Dr Ian Moore, one of the top trainers in the harness racing game, flew in from Florida and offered advice on selecting yearlings and afterwards fielded numerous questions from a number of local horsemen on various solutions to horse ailments. There were numerous other seminars on breeding matters with Dr Ben Stoughton, Dr Mary McNiven and Dr Martha Mellish, all from the Atlantic Vet College. The seminars included Nutrition on the farm, feeding mares and their babies, deworming and suggestions on the optimum time for breeding mares and getting them in foal.

With the breeding season now in full swing, the timing for such a venture was most appropriate.

Patrick Shepherd, Corey MacPherson On the 1000 Win Plateau

Charlottetown born trainer Patrick Shepherd, now based in Ontario, hit the 1000 win plateau recently in Ontario and continues to roll right along. Patrick bagged 194 wins last season in Ontario with earnings in excess of $1.2 million, his best season to date. Patrick is of to a solid start in 2020 with 23 wins , one more than fellow Islander Ron MacDonald. On the Canadian wins leaderboard, Patrick’s brother Robert leads all drivers with 68 wins while Islander Brett MacDonald is 5th with 50 wins. It’s great to see Island boys excelling in the game they love.

And let’s not forget our own Corey MacPherson who opens the 2020 campaign just 12 wins shy of the 1000 barrier. Corey is one of the bright, young, talented faces in the Maritime driving ranks. See Kurt Hughes’ piece on Corey, on page 16.

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