Racing must clean own house

March 30, 2014 

Following the allegations raised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and reported by The New York Times, many of us in the Thoroughbred industry are eagerly awaiting the final determination of these issues by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

It is my hope they use all the prosecutorial powers available to determine if there is evidence of animal cruelty, medication violations and cheating.

Like so many others, I was upset by what I read in the Times and disgusted by what I saw and what was alleged in that PETA video. Any person abusing a horse or caught with an electronic stimulation device like the one described in the video should be banned from the sport for life.

As much as it pains me to see our industry being denigrated in the media, there is another part of me that feels we, as an industry, deserve every bit of that criticism because the sport's rules and our penalties have not been effective deterrents.

We have seen some encouraging actions.

In 2011 New York regulators handed trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. a 10-year suspension saying his conduct at racetracks in New York State and elsewhere had been "improper, obnoxious, unbecoming, and detrimental to the best interests of racing."

And last year, authorities from Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico came down on 14 licencees, collectively fining them nearly $253,000 and enforcing 213 years of suspensions for those held to have had a role in giving illegal drugs to racehorses.

Those are steps in the right direction.

All of us should feel a personal and professional duty to police this sport and immediately report any wrongdoing, either directly to the appropriate authority or through a national hotline, such as the one maintained by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (866-TIP-TRPB).

As recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, any therapeutic treatment or veterinary procedure for a horse involved in racing or race training should be based upon a specific diagnosis and communicated among each party.

Above all, there must be respect for the horse.

The Jockey Club has devoted immense resources over a long time to ensure the health of our athletes, resolve medication and safety issues, and bring transparency to the regulation of our horse racing.

We believe that horses should compete only when they are free from the influence of medication, and have supported the national uniform medication program proposed in 2011 (horseracingreform.org) which encompasses controlled therapeutic medications, prohibited substances, accredited labs and penalty guidelines for multiple medication violations.

Only four of the 38 states with racing have fully implemented the national uniform medication program (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia). A dozen others are in various stages of adoption but have yet to commit to a definitive implementation date — often because of the simple fact the bureaucratic process can be painstakingly slow. In other cases special interest groups, intent on maintaining the status quo, have stalled action.

While there is no doubt that some of those shown in the video deserve condemnation for their actions and their attitudes, representatives of states that have not adopted the national uniform medication program should also shoulder blame for the current state of affairs. Their inaction feeds negative perceptions of our sport and lends credence to the charge that we are incapable of broad-based reform.

For every small step forward — whether it's a televised racing series, a marketing tour, or new owner and new fan initiatives — we take two giants steps backward when prospective fans, owners, television networks, sponsors, elected officials or animal rights advocates see media reports that convey inhumane treatment and a lack of integrity in our sport.

Enough is enough.

The horses deserve better.

Owners and trainers deserve better.

And, in a sport based on the integrity of competition, fans who wager their hard earned money deserve better.

The clock was ticking. If the state-by-state approach failed to produce the needed changes, we would look to alternative means to implement these reforms. One alternative avenue is federal legislation.

The draft legislation proposed by some federal lawmakers involving the United States Anti-Doping Agency is a highly attractive model. USADA has the experience, the knowledge and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.

The time to draw that proverbial line in the sand is rapidly approaching and The Jockey Club's Board of Stewards plans to do that no later than the 62nd annual Round Table Conference on Aug. 10.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will carefully assess the progress and the status of the national medication reform campaign.

If the major racing states have not implemented these reforms, we will aggressively seek rapid implementation of federal legislation, including steps leading toward the elimination of all race-day medications.

With the safety of our horses, the integrity of competition and the general perception of the sport all at risk, we cannot afford to wait any longer.

Ogden Mills Phipps is chairman of The Jockey Club and a Thoroughbred owner and breeder.

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