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Let's Clean up Racing

There's lots of negativity around our sport right now, so let's examine my ways to make some drastic changes to increase accountability and to demand transparency.

This is too pretty to let it waste away.
This is too pretty to let it waste away.
Alan Crowhurst
If I were Horseracing Tsar for the day there are a huge number of things I’d do. But most of them involve free drinks and a private betting window. But there are systemic issues in racing that I know we can fix. Even if you’re amongst the naïve crowd (and it’s perfectly ok if you are) and you think that the problems are being blown out of proportion, there is no reason that we cannot make a large number of issues right now. So let’s start, start big, and make something happen.

1- Limit barn sizes of the "super trainers". Tracks can easily do this by not allowing any single trainer to occupy more than 40 stalls (or something similar). The lack of direct oversight by the person ultimately responsible for the care, training and well-being of the animals is astounding when you think about trainers who have operations that span continents let alone multiple race tracks. I'm paying a trainer to train my runner, not to check in a couple times a week on him. In my business it is called the span of control. Ideally that is 3-5 subordinates; however, that number would obviously be substantially higher with horses. But 100? That’s just too many any which way you look at it.

2- Hold veterinarians responsible. I've long been a proponent here of any violation in which a vet participates (unless he is obviously defrauded) should be immediately sanctioned by the AAEP and the AVMA: 2 strikes and you license is suspended. Ideally, veterinarians on track are in the employ of the state racing commission in order to avoid a conflict of interest. The Jane Cibelli incident at Tampa Bay is a perfect example. I’m paraphrasing, but the vet reported to the regulatory commission that while he knew how he was treating the horse was in violation of the racing rules, he did it anyway, as a significant portion of his business comes from Cibelli and he could not afford to lose her as a client. This kind of pressure is understandable, though not excusable, and by removing that undue influence from the backside, you can probably help alleviate the strong arming of veterinary professionals. This won’t stop all violations, certainly, but if it helps a little, it is probably worth it.

3- Control medications through an on-track pharmacy. Any loose medication, syringes, etc on the backside at that point would be in direct violation of the state regulatory commission. Hong Kong already does this with great success.

4- The Jockey Club TOBA ("Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association") has more power than I think it realizes. It ultimately determines the intrinsic value of a high level race by assigning it graded status and/or recognizing it as a listed stakes race. If tracks or states have chronic issues with abuse/medication/etc issues, then simply begin to dismantle their stakes racing program. Enforce responsibility of the track management to not look the other way. Racing is becoming more and more focused on the "big race day" as NYRA showed with the complete restructuring of their Spring meet to focus on Belmont Day. Heck, I played Sunland on their big day. If you start to take that away from them, the tracks will listen quickly. [Correction: TOBA, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association, is responsible for providing the grades for stakes races, not The Jockey Club.]

5- States need to get on board with the Mid Atlantic's ( efforts to have uniform drug policies. I know there are issues with the lab capabilities nation-wide in order to be able to enforce the policies therein, but let's set the bar high and let the labs' technologies catch up.

6- Follow the lead of Jeff Gural at Meadowlands and use a track’s ability to ban anyone from doing business on the private property that is the track. While state owned entities have a different set of challenges, CDI and Mr. Stronach can lead the way by setting the bar and refusing to do business with known cheaters and/or violators of the known rules. This is not a stretch to ask of the two major private conglomerates.

7- Be draconian with penalties. You use frog juice once? Gone for life. You get caught milkshaking? Seeya in a year. Multiple violations? Please find a new line of work in this state. Things like Bute or other legitimate drugs that test positive at low levels at or near the date at which it should be 100% metabolized are talked about in an open forum. The Dutrow 10-year suspension wasn't necessarily questioned for its length, but simply that it was unprecedented.

8- On that note, states need to universally recognize other states' suspensions. This is not to say we need a federal oversight committee, simple reciprocation amongst the states. You can't cheat in Florida and then go race in West Virginia until your suspension expires. I know this has gotten better as of late, but this principle should also apply to assistant trainers. A suspended trainer should not be allowed to simply transfer his stable to an assistant for the duration of his suspension.

9- And since I brought up governments, the last thing the industry needs is Federal oversight and, inevitably, involvement. Currently, while the systems are imperfect, the flaws are mostly self-induced and, to an extent, tolerated. However, with the Feds, the most prevalent law they continually pass is the law of unintended consequences. The Feds are amazing at creating bureaucracy funded by taxes which would be ultimately be levied on the industry itself. The profit margins are already razor thin and creating bureaucrats that regulate everything in the racing universe would mean that the vast majority of gamblers, breeders, owners, trainers, etc would go out of business. Imagine a world of a 40% effective take out to pay for federal programs, oversight, employees, and benefits. Plus higher taxes at the sales. Plus Federal licensing fees. If you don't think that's the truth then you need to looks really closely at any and all federal programs to examine for any efficiently therein. (hint: there isn’t any). Plus you get legislative creep. Each piece of legislation isn't quite good enough so the next step is to assume more authority and have more bureaucracy and have more rules and regulations. It's what the Feds do best. Let's keep clear of the proverbial slippery slope and do this ourselves.

10- Worried about buzzers? Easy, each jockey's equipment is examined by the outrider prior to loading. Any issues or suspicions are brought to the Head Outrider and the horse is scratched if there is any question or shadiness there. Empower the trusted employees of the tracks.

11- Like Hong Kong, vet reports in regards to racing condition are published. Any PP that has "vanned off", "Pulled up", or the like is explained in the trouble line. If trainers and/or owners do not want to disclose this to the track, then then cannot race. This is not only fair to the betting public, but keeps trainers honest. Full disclosure is a must when ensuring the safety of the horses. Hong Kong does an amazing job overall with their dissemination of information, but this is probably one of easiest to emulate.

12- Stop blaming the big guns in the industry like CDI. Sure, do they have a responsibility to their tracks and customers (to include the horses) to provide a safe environment in which to live, train, and race? Absolutely. But CDI is in the end a publicly held company that is desperately trying to maximize income, as its ownership (shareholders) demand. Could CDI put its foot down, set an absolute standard, and probably have most of the industry follow? Sure. But couldn’t NYRA do the same? Stronach? We can ask for them to help us as horsemen, punters, and fans, but we also shouldn’t assume they have exactly the same interests. CDI and NYRA aren’t even run by horsemen in the end, but instead by business leaders (CDI) and government appointees (NYRA). Breeders’ Cup, the Jockey Club, and states are where the change truly must originate (or at least assume somewhat of a mantle of leadership). These are the organizations that own the regulations (states) and have national authority to make decisions and have opinions (BC and the JC) that have an effect on the entire industry.

13- Find optimal takeout. I won’t get into this, since I’m not an expert, but there are some great perspectives out there and some amazing ideas. Let’s at least try.

14- Be aggressive with advertising the sport. The new deals with NBC/NBCSports and FoxSports1 are awesome. Racing in HD is pretty spectacular; I think that can be universally agreed upon. But why isn’t ADW legal in Georgia (for example) while the lottery is? Get involved with ensuring that everyone has access to the online wagering experience. The wagering side of racing is far more enticing to smart people than is the mindlessness of slots. In Hong Kong the racing is marketed almost as a puzzle. People handicap instead of doing the crossword. Let’s be creative and reach out to different demographics by appealing to their tastes. Young people are never going to be big bettors, Steve Byk is adamant about this, and says as much on his radio show, and I completely agree. But there are still huge swaths of middle aged or established people that can be exposed to racing.

15- Slots are no panacea, I’ve said that a hundred times here. But the industry as a whole has a vested interest in the welfare of racing in the United States. I’ve nothing more to say here on that.

16- Lastly, and most importantly, let’s focus on the good stories. Every horse has a story; let’s get the great ones out there in the media. Let’s get the aftercare programs some publicity to show what amazing things they are doing for our retired athletes. Let’s showcase the compassion and love we all have for our horses. The #fullstoryPETA thing is great, but Twitter is only so big when it comes to the exposure we as an industry have. Let’s do this for real.

Like I said in the intro, this is an industry that is worth saving. PETA is just highlighting a small and hopefully isolated incident for their self-serving interests. Let’s get ahead of the story and really get after some of the problems. We need change, everyone agrees on that. But let’s start now and start big. Please feel free to adamantly disagree, since this is just my opinion.