And, indeed, this past Tuesday, the USTA, citing the Ontario action, suspended its membership privileges for all of the Brooks' entities. Now regulators in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Illinois, among others, are mulling whether to honor those suspensions. New Jersey, which hosts the most important track in America at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, already has suspended Brooks Brothers' horses from racing there. At Ohio's only harness track now in operation Brooks' horses were scratched Saturday. New York quickly followed. On Wednesday, so did Delaware.
At some point, if the horses cannot race because the Brooks Brothers cannot be licensed, and if the federal government, Canadian authorities, or private creditors of Team Brooks seek to tap into the value of all that horseflesh, harness racing may see its biggest dispersal sale ever. Many folks in harness racing told me privately that they wouldn't shed a tear if the Brooks Brothers were forced out of their sport. But getting from here to there, they worry, won't be a smooth ride.
On Friday, I emailed Jeff Pocaro, an attorney who often represents horsemen and horsewomen in harness racing. I wanted to know if he was involved in a defense to the regulatory action against the Brooks Brothers. Pocaro emailed back to say that while he was an "advisor," he had not been "asked to represent any of the Brooks' family members in Canada or with the USTA" so "it would be inappropriate for me to comment. Sorry about that. Normally I would."
But Pocaro was willing to give me a general quote "as a horse attorney." And in that capacity alone, he wrote that he considered "the Brooks' family suspension detrimental to racing, both short and long term. The suspension changes the level of competition. The Brooks' horses produced record earnings for a stable last year, with many of the horses being made the public's betting favorite. If the suspension continues on a long-term basis, racing fans will have to adjust their handicapping to take into account that there are no Brooks' horses in the race. Sometimes there were two or three Brooks' horses in a stakes race and the entry gave you value when placing a bet.
"And," Pocaro added. "A long term suspension could result in the forced liquidation of the Brooks' horses by creditors to raise capital. With more than 900 horses, a sale would dwarf the last big dispersal by Lana Lobell Farms of Bedminster, NJ, when there was a bankruptcy. With the economy the way it is and purse structures suffering at too many tracks in the US and Canada, it would be a huge fire sale beyond imagination, as harness racing would be hard pressed to absorb so many horses at one time."
An owner, breeder and writer in racing, I was up in Mississauga, Ontario this past weekend for the "Academy Awards of Harness Racing," otherwise known as Standardbred Canada's O'Brien Awards. It's a black-tie affair that honors the Canadian industry's most successful horses and humans. It's great fun. But this year anyway all anyone seemed to be talking about were the Brooks Brothers. So sudden was the regulatory takedown last week that there was a full-page, color advertisement in the night's program from Bulletproof--even though Standardbred Canada was forced at the last minute to scratch Bulletproof entries from consideration for annual divisional honors.