By Bill Finley
Trainer Jeffrey Englehart, 26, smoked marijuana. In eight states that’s legal. In New York State, where Englehart trains, the punishment for possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana is a $100 fine. The second offense is a $200 fine. Get the point? It’s 2017 and smoking marijuana is no longer considered a big deal; it’s about as innocuous a crime as there is, right up there with having an overdue library book.
Yet, the New York Gaming Commission apparently doesn’t see it that way. Englehart’s license was up for renewal and because he had failed a random drug test administered by the Gaming Commission, he was told that he could not apply for a renewal for one year. A young trainer trying to build a stable and develop a reputation, for him, this is a major blow.
This is not the first time the New York pot police have set down a trainer. Last year it was Brian Lynch, who also tested positive for marijuana and was handed an indefinite suspension, one that wound up lasting 23 days. How did Englehart get a year and Lynch got 23 days? For Englehart, this was a second offense. In 2013, Englehart was suspended for 15 days after refusing to submit to a random drug test while training at Finger Lakes. And Lynch, unlike Englehart, was not up for a license renewal at the time he tested positive, so the Gaming Board could not fall back on the tactic of failing to renew his license. Nonetheless, the 23 days-vs-one-year discrepancy for virtually the same offense seems horribly unfair.
That said, the New York Gaming Commission was within its rights to give Englehart a one-year vacation. Holding a racing license is a privilege and not a right. When you sign your application, you give the New York Commission, and any other commission, all sorts of powers. They are allowed to test you and they are allowed to penalize you or strip you of your license if you do something wrong, whether it is something as serious as robbing a bank or something as minor as smoking marijuana. Rules are rules.
And common sense is common sense.
Jockeys should absolutely be tested for drugs and alcohol because if they were ever to ride in an impaired condition they would be putting their safety and the safety of the other jockeys in the race in peril. Should one get caught attempting to ride under the influence of anything stronger than Mountain Dew set them down for a very long time.
But trainers? There’s no reason to care that Jeffrey Englehart smoked marijuana, which he has admitted to. In our modern society, that’s about as serious an offense as taking 15 items into the “12 items and fewer” express checkout lane at the Price Chopper. The only people who would have even the slightest reason to be upset about Englehart smoking pot would be his owners. If they felt it was affecting his job performance, then they can fire him. Englehart won 70 races from 325 starters in 2016. Looks like he did just fine, reefer or no reefer.
It’s time for the New York Gaming Commission to stop this nonsense. There are a lot of real problems in the sport that need to be dealt with and trainers doing recreational drugs on their own time is not one of them. Not one second or one dollar should ever again be spent on random drug tests for trainers, even if, as is the case with Englehart, there is a red flag in their past. They are not employees of the New York Gaming Commission, NYRA or Finger Lakes. They are employees of the owners who hire them and it should be up to them, and them only, to deal with any substance abuse issues their trainers may have.
Ironically, the New York Gaming Commission is among the best racing commissions in the country. Unlike many, it is not run by political hacks but people who genuinely seem to care about doing the right thing. They never look the other way when a trainer is caught using illegal performance-enhancing drugs on their horses and no commission in the state has done more to help with the problem of retired horses being sent off to slaughter after they are done racing.
Someone needs to tell them they are shooting themselves in the foot with this insistence on drug testing trainers and are needlessly hurting their reputation. Jeffrey Englehart has not had any violations for drugging horses, and that’s all people care about, and all they should care about. People are tired of seeing horses undergo miraculous form reversals when claimed by some guy winning 34% of his starts. And people are tired of the cheats getting 30 or 60-day suspensions when they are caught using drugs on their horses. Juxtapose that with Englehart losing his license for a year because he was caught using marijuana and it makes the Gaming Board look like it doesn’t have its eye on the ball.
Call a do-over. Let Englehart stew for 30 days, tell him to please lay off the reefer and or move his stable to the appropriately named Mile High Park in Arapahoe, Colorado, give him his license back and get back to the real job of busting the real bad guys, those who don’t drug themselves but their horses.