Why this is the only chance for America’s broken regulatory system

Bidding to grow public confidence: “We need to replace the patchwork of conflicting medication regulations and standards with a single comprehensive scheme that will enhance public trust of racing,” Barbara Banke told the Round Table conference. Photo: NYRA.com

The Jockey Club Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing is arguably the most important meeting on the annual Thoroughbred racing calendar in America. That has arguably never been more the case than at this year’s conference on Sunday, when powerful representations were made by some of the most respected people in the business in favour of the proposed Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2017.

The racing industry’s call for major change on integrity and regulation is gathering real momentum now, and it’s certainly about time. We have reached the stage where the failings of the current system (or, rather, the lack of one) cannot be tolerated.

The case for the Horse Racing Integrity Act was put superbly on TRC last month in this excellent article by Joe Gorajec, who has spent his entire adult life in the racing industry and served as the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission for 25 years (1990-2015).

Gorajec concluded with this: “[The Act] would provide the uniformity in regulation that is the accepted standard in nearly all professional sports. This landmark legislation, however, brings much more than uniform application of standardized rules and protocols. It promotes the principles of integrity, excellence and independence, some of which have been long absent in many racing jurisdictions.”

Four strong positives

For some further background on the need for this legislation due to the failure of the state-by-state drug testing and enforcement, please read this article, which I wrote on TRC two years ago.

At the Round Table on Sunday, Jockey Club President and COO James Gagliano outlined the prospects of the current bill, which was introduced on May 25 by Representative Andy Barr of Kentucky and Representative Paul Tonko of New York.

While passage of any legislation in Washington in the current partisan environment is not guaranteed, Gagliano stated four strong positives for the consideration of the bill:

  1. The fact that USADA was chosen as the industry’s partner. USADA is well known to Congress, which regularly votes to provide it with much of its funding for its amateur sports anti-doping program.

  2. The initiative has the support of the Humane Society of the United States, which has a commanding presence in Washington with 11 million supporters and grants and contribution revenue of $180 million.

  3. The bill is regarded as a ‘no score’, which means there is no ask for federal funding as the expenses of the authority will be paid by the industry.

  4. The federal lawmakers have jurisdiction because of the transportation of horses across state lines and the wagering is primarily state to state and regulated by the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978.

The opponents of the bill often suggest it would be a huge mistake to get the federal government involved in racing. However, in reality, the federal government plays a substantial role in gambling legislation and enforcement in the U.S. An overwhelming majority of the wagering on horse races is bet across state lines is therefore covered by the Interstate Horse Racing Act.

One of Sunday’s most eloquent and passionate representations on the legislative initiative came from Barbara Banke. Ms. Banke and her late husband, Jess Jackson, founded Stonestreet in 2005 and, in 12 short years, it has become one of the pre-eminent American racing and breeding operations, with top-level success around the world from the likes of Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, My Miss Aurelia, Cavorting, Lady Aurelia and many others.

Ms Banke, a board member of the Breeders’ Cup, TOBA (Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association), and the National Museum of Racing, and a member of the Jockey Club, told the conference, “My family and I are vested, financially and emotionally, in the healthy future of this industry and that is why I support the Horse Racing Integrity Act.”

She added, “The morass of conflicting state medication thresholds and rules is too confusing and slow to change. With this bill we can achieve comprehensive reform that is meaningful both to horse owners and the general public.”

Unified voice

Ms. Banke emphasized the need for the industry to promote unity and credibility for Thoroughbred racing.

“We have a great deal to celebrate about the sport of racing, but we must build a strong, unified voice to bolster the global reputation of our American-bred horses. We must craft our narrative and rebuild the foundation of integrity to establish trust with audiences old and new … Today, I’d like us all to think seriously about supporting legislation that will do just that … build faith among our present patrons and attract future ones.

“We must establish an unwavering vision of our practices on a national level via legislation … Some say that the horse industry does not need more regulation. I say that we need to replace the patchwork of conflicting medication regulations and standards with a single comprehensive scheme that will enhance public trust of racing.

Shawn Smeallie, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, is an experienced lobbyist in Washington DC and runs this important legislative initiative for the horse racing industry. He had some pointed comments for the detractors of the Act.

“For all the thin arguments made against the Horse Racing Integrity Act, the opposition cannot refute that the horse, under this bill, is treated better, or that the playing field is more fair for the owner, trainer, jockey or horseplayer … Quite simply, those who choose to cheat will not prosper … While we have a growing coalition in support of the Horse Racing Integrity Act, we still need more support, we need everyone who wants to finally fix this glaring problem to reach out to their Members of Congress and Senators, and urge them to support the bill.”

As I was listening to Mr. Smeallie speak at the Round Table, I could not help but remember this article, which was published by the Paulick Report early last month.

The most logical approach

Ray Paulick has recently done the most important investigative reporting in Thoroughbred racing I can recall. He wrote a series of shocking articles covering the trial of Murray Rojas, a two-time Penn National trainer. This is a direct quote from a July 2 article on the Paulick Report: “The charges involve races run at Penn National from 2009-2013. Rojas was found to have conspired with veterinarians to have horses in her care treated on race day with a variety of therapeutic medications that are not permitted within 24 hours of a race …. Four veterinarians who pleaded guilty for their part in the scheme and cooperated with prosecutors are awaiting sentencing. Others, including a trainer, a racing office official and clocker have pleaded guilty and were sentenced.”

It is important to note that this case was brought by the federal government who relied on information from FBI agents. As Paulick pointed out further, “The federal government brings with it immense subpoena powers and has the means to get people to talk in ways racing commission investigators or local law enforcement cannot.”

I think that is appropriate to close with a quote from Shawn Smeallie from his Paulick Report commentary:

“We have seen what happened in the Rojas case. We are naïve to think it is not happening in other areas … The Horse Racing Integrity Act would establish an independent horse racing anti-doping authority with responsibility for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping program for all of horse racing … A joint USADA/industry HADA [Horse Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority] is the most logical approach, and, unfortunately, the only one that has a chance of working.”

I believe that Shawn Smeallie is correct. The current state-by-state regulatory system for protecting the integrity of our betting pools and our animals is completely broken and cannot be fixed. The inadequate drug testing, the flaws and inconsistencies in individual state regulations and the lack of diligence to catch and prosecute the cheaters has led to a complete lack of confidence in the integrity of our races and wagering pools.

I repeat Smeallie’s comment:

“A joint USADA/industry HADA is the logical approach, and, unfortunately, the only one that has a chance of working.”

View Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus

More Commentary Articles

By the same author