Earlier this week, the Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP) held a continuing education seminar at Delaware Park. One of the agenda items was the reciprocity of eligibility lists in general and, in particular, reciprocity of veterinarians’ lists. This is an issue we’ve been talking about in the industry for some time, but, without a basic understanding of how lists are maintained and race entries are taken, it's difficult to understand why this is even an issue today.
Most of us who follow racing are familiar with the concept of reciprocity as it pertains to occupational licensees such as trainers: if a trainer’s license is suspended in one jurisdiction, other states may reciprocate and not permit that trainer to participate in their jurisdiction until the original jurisdiction’s suspension has been served.
During the period of suspension, we say that the occupational licensee is ‘ineligible’.
Horses, too, can be made ineligible. The InCompass system, the software used by nearly all North American Thoroughbred racing offices to take entries, generate programs, etc., includes a module to record and maintain ‘Horses on Lists’.
Racing officials, who are hired for their professional judgment and approved by the host racing commission to perform specific duties related to safety and integrity, are charged with maintaining those lists. They include the starter’s list, the paddock judge’s list, the identifier’s list, the stewards’ list, and the veterinarians’ list.
When an issue arises that could potentially jeopardize the safety or integrity of the racing program, these officials err on the side of caution and place the horse on the appropriate list. From there, they work with the horse’s trainer to resolve whatever the relevant issue might be. Once the requirements for removal are satisfied, the horse is released from the list and once again eligible.
Most jurisdictions have a rule on the books stating that a horse is ineligible to start or, in some jurisdictions, enter, if it appears on one of these lists.
The public policy behind the rule is simple: if there’s an unresolved issue regarding the safety or integrity of a horse, that horse should not be racing.
Prior to the widespread adoption of the InCompass system, these lists were maintained ‘in-house’. Some lists, like the veterinarians’ list, might get faxed to neighboring jurisdictions or to the next track in a seasonal rotation. But, for the most part, absent a particularly noxious reputation, a horse’s status as ineligible was effectively localized.
As the business model of racing has evolved, more horses are running in multiple jurisdictions than ever before. A computerized system to keep track of all of these lists and make them available to other jurisdictions only makes sense.
The simple truth
The InCompass veterinary list module is a terrific tool - one provided at no cost to racetracks as an industry service - but a tool is only as effective as the people employing it. The simple truth is, there is probably a horse racing somewhere today in North America that appears on some jurisdiction's veterinarians’ list.
While reciprocity of eligibility lists in general has been a point of emphasis for the ROAP program since 2010, the American Association of Equine Practitioners made reciprocity of the veterinarians’ list a priority by making it the specific focus of one of its planks in its “Ten Point Prescription for Racing Reform”, highlighted at last year’s Jockey Club Round Table. It was also the recent subject of an in-depth article by Natalie Voss at the Paulick Report.
Let’s walk through how the veterinarians’ list works in most jurisdictions. The commission or the racetrack hires a veterinarian to perform the duties of regulatory veterinarian. Those duties are enumerated in the commission’s rulebook, and usually include the maintenance of the veterinarians’ list.
When, in the regulatory veterinarian’s professional judgment, there is an unresolved question about the horse’s fitness to race in jurisdiction Y, that veterinarian makes the decision to put the horse ‘on the list’. That veterinarian (or his or her designee) adds the horse to jurisdiction Y’s veterinarians’ list in the InCompass system.
Slipping through the cracks
Next, let’s say someone wants to enter that horse in jurisdiction Z. If jurisdiction Z is using InCompass to take entries, a dialogue box will pop up notifying the entry clerk that the horse is on jurisdiction Y’s veterinarians’ list. What happens next - wait for it - varies by jurisdiction.
Some jurisdictions’ rules declare a horse is ineligible to enter while on a veterinarians’ list. In those jurisdictions, the entry should not be taken.
Some jurisdictions’ rules declare a horse is ineligible to start while on a veterinarians’ list. In those jurisdictions, the information in the dialogue box is reviewed and the notification overridden.
Some jurisdictions supplement this with a house rule to prevent entries taken on ‘listed’ horses from excluding horses eligible at time of entry because, once the entry is taken, it becomes a race against time to resolve the issue. If the issue isn’t resolved and the horse cannot be removed from the list before post time, the horse must be scratched.
Failing this, an ineligible horse is loaded into the gate.
To prevent listed horses from slipping through the cracks, certain safeguards are in place. One is the initial dialogue box that appears on the entry clerk’s screen. Another is an email notification generated by InCompass whenever that dialogue box is overridden and an entry is actually taken on a horse on a list. Depending on the jurisdiction, these emails might be sent to the racing secretary, the stewards, some other designee, or some combination of the above.
Horses potentially at risk
Regardless of the system in place, it is incumbent upon all the parties involved - from the entry clerk to the trainer to the relevant racing officials - to ensure that ineligible horses aren’t competing. To ignore or dismiss this notification without appropriate follow-up in this day and age is hard to explain away.
As ROAP chairman Hugh Gallagher said at the Delaware CE: “We shouldn’t be having this conversation.”
We know from the excellent statistical work that has been done using the Equine Injury Database that horses that have been on the veterinarians’ list at some point in their career are at increased risk for future injury. It’s not the act of putting the horse on the list that makes them potentially more vulnerable. It’s because they are potentially vulnerable that they are put on the list.
These are the horses that a regulatory veterinarian - the racing official expressly hired for his or her professional opinion - has identified at some point as potentially being ‘at risk.’
A veterinarian has actually seen this horse in the flesh, determined that there was a potential safety or integrity issue that needed to be resolved and, by putting that horse on the veterinarians’ list, declared that appropriate follow-up was necessary.
We cannot allow an administrative process to circumvent clinical assessment. Sometimes it’s as simple as closing the paperwork loop on a fever reported months ago or a lapsed Coggins test. Sometimes it’s not. Simply put: if there’s an unresolved question regarding the safety or integrity of a horse, that horse should not be racing.
We ask our racehorses to compete while carrying riders on their backs and the public’s money on their noses, and it’s up to all of us to do everything we can to make sure they come home safely. Sometimes that might mean not letting them start.
After all, they - and our industry - deserve all the protection we can provide.
Dr. Jennifer Durenberger has held positions in the racing industry as a regulatory veterinarian, a steward, and a Director of Racing. While currently operating a consulting business based in Saratoga Springs, NY, some of her most satisfying work comes from her ongoing involvement with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. A member of the Racing Officials Accreditation Program Education Committee and an at-large member of its board of directors, the views represented here are entirely her own.