Horse Racing Revelations: Fair Labor and the Accountability of Chad Brown

As the Belmont Stakes approaches, examining horse trainer Chad Brown’s accountability following his recent penalty from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Updated: June 5, 2019 • 9:15 PM ET

Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown entered Belmont week amid controversey.

This week, multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown is readying his stables to compete in some of the most important races in America. It’s Belmont Stakes week, after all, and for the New York-based smartly dressed Brown, that translates to a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities.

He’ll have turf racing covered with multiple entries in featured races, and his charges will be favorites across the board. However, I would suspect the last several weeks have been full of stress for him. Considering that the Department of Labor has levied a $1.6 million penalty against him in back wages, some are saying this was aimed at him with malice and purpose.

After a three-year investigation, Brown’s stable admitted to slipshod practices, thus violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. This included fudging on promised pay, making a hash of records and just generally manipulating what is known as the H-2B Visa Program.

After the punishment was handed down, a question remained in my mind. Was justice served, or do we have a case where a high-profile trainer was specifically targeted with the intent to make an example of him?

Some recent articles reporting this story seemed to take the position that Brown was wronged or singled out because he was a powerful player in the horse racing world. They painted a grim picture, a la Thomas Nast, where Labor Department bureaucrats sat around Washington with their feet on the desks tossing darts at a list of occupations that could be nominated for violations.

One New York-based lawyer on even went so far as to suggest that each year, the Labor Department pursues a different industry with vigor. Sometimes it’s car washes, other times landscaping, with no rhyme or reason to it.

That last comment seemed rather blasé to me. I’m no fan of big government; draining the swamp is in order. Even more so, the famous Ronald Reagan quote comes to mind, something about answers and problems — Wasn’t it?

I don’t say this lightly, but I think the onus in this situation needs to be on Brown. I don’t see how it can be any other way.

Let’s face it, our bloated government that is backed by graft and corruption isn’t going to change. It has become too big, a self-sustaining black hole of endless sucking.

Brown is a fabulous horse trainer, first and foremost, but he’s also an entrepreneur. As a businessman, he has a fiduciary responsibility to his trade and shareholders. They expect him to adhere to high standards. Despite being a graded stakes-winning trainer, he must display strong character, and that means putting profit behind character.

I understand the laws might be written in a convoluted manner (the Fair Labor Standards Act has been manipulated by politicians ever since it was passed during the New Deal in 1938), that mucking out the barns are hard to fill positions due to low pay, and that the current Administration in Washington is taking a harder line against immigrants.

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Yet, the question remains; shouldn’t someone like Brown, who schooled in the barns of Bobby Frankel and Shug McGaughey, hold himself to a higher standard of excellence?

I think so.

It is obligatory that all of us maintain strong character to put our house in order and realize the difference between a mistake and a poor choice. The two, after all, are not analogous. The former implies that errors were made without knowledge, while the latter clearly does not.

In short, own up to your poor choices and take responsibility publicly when the moment arises.
After Linda Rice, a respected trainer on the NYRA circuit, was investigated and punished by the same department, Brown must have heard the rumors. He would have had ample time to sort his affairs, drain his own swamp and be above board.

Maybe he tried, but it’s important to remember that training is just like any other business. You must surround yourself with trusted advisors who have your best interests at heart. They understand your mission, just as much as you do.

Brown clearly did not have that. Instead, he opened himself to investigation by allowing a corrupt and venal wing of a broken system to come knocking unmercifully.

Maybe Brown’s stable got too big too fast? Too much power? Too much responsibility?

Perhaps, the systems in place for such a large outfit were not built for a complex organization. To be sure, he has had immeasurable success in the past several years.

The Labor Department’s motives may not have been motivated by fairness in its supposed “targeting” of such a successful trainer. However, we would be well-advised to consider that there is always a many-sided set of causalities to consider, especially when complex laws associated with immigration and human resources issues are at stake.

In the end, with or without the Eclipse awards, only Brown can hold himself accountable.

We should all take heed.

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