02/24/2016 2:56PM

Hovdey: Candidates' stances on racing open to debate


Google “horse race Trump” and it is no surprise that the screen fills with political news, except for a lone Wikipedia citation of Jay Trump, the great American steeplechaser who won the 1965 Grand National at Aintree.

Such is the nearly total appropriation of the term by the political media, which reports daily on the horse race of the current presidential campaign without having a clue as to the nature of the real animals running in the third at Gulfstream Park.

The Kentucky Derby has been offered 141 times since 1875 and still the only sitting president to attend the race has been Richard Nixon, which he did on May 3, 1969, to watch Majestic Prince remain unbeaten with a narrow victory over Arts and Letters and Dike. Legend has it that the prez didn’t bet, but touted the winner to some of his political pals in attendance.

In 2000, George W. Bush had clinched the Republican nomination by mid-March, which left the first Saturday in May open to hang with his presidential dad at Churchill Downs. In early May of 2008, Hillary Clinton still was in a pitched battle with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, but she was campaigning in nearby Indiana, and at least she was at the Derby in spirit.

“I hope that everybody will go to the Derby on Saturday and place just a little money on the filly for me,” Clinton said at a rally the week before. “I won’t be able to be there this year – my daughter is going to be there and so she has strict instructions to bet on Eight Belles.”

That didn’t work out so well, especially for Eight Belles.

The health and welfare of a relatively small industry like Thoroughbred racing rarely raises even a blip of recognition during a presidential campaign. Where a president might stand on federal legislation that could impact the sport is usually buried beneath broader concerns.

Still, it is fair to wonder if any of the remaining candidates have a track record on issues that might impact racing in some way down the line. As with most things political, it’s hard to tell.

For Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz, even the most oblique support for the expansion of gambling – racing or casino – would not sit well with the evangelical Christian bloc they both are so energetically courting.

Conversely, both senators have had their hands on the levers of government in states where horse racing is a legal, vital industry wracked with political turmoil. Rubio was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000 and served as House speaker from 2006 to 2008, while Cruz served as Texas solicitor general from 2003 to 2008.

Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and Cruz followed in 2012. The only gambling bill of significance to arise during their terms has been the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, a piece of legislation that was originally intended to clamp down on Internet gambling but is now all but dead from the pressure of the various oxen potentially being gored.

“I’m very concerned about expanding gaming online,” Rubio said in a recent interview, in Nevada no less. “What I don’t want to see is Internet casinos, because I have seen gambling addiction ruin families, I have seen gambling expansion ruin people’s lives.” He also came out against legal prostitution.

Donald Trump is unapologetically in the gambling business, so there are no moral qualms for him to consider (and yes, I just used “Donald Trump” and “moral qualms” in the same sentence). When it comes to racetracks, Trump’s most notable intersection came in 2003 when he piggybacked the investigation of New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer to claim the New York Racing Association was not qualified to run a casino operation at its racetracks. Earlier that year, NYRA had chosen MGM Mirage over Trump to operate the slots franchise at Aqueduct.

Of all the candidates, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has had the most direct impact on horse racing through his strong backing of video lottery terminals at his state’s racetracks, which went into high gear soon after his election in 2010. Hillary Clinton spoke out in opposition to casinos in Arkansas in the mid-1980s, when her husband was governor.

As far as horse racing is concerned, Clinton married into the sport so passionately enjoyed by her late mother-in-law, Virginia Kelley. For those who want to go into the archives, that’s the Clintons in the winner’s circle alongside Ron and Debbie McAnally after their colt Silver Ending won the 1990 Arkansas Derby.

More recently, as a U.S. senator from New York, Clinton supported tribal casino expansion, and the American Gaming Association has given her a “green light” rating in its voter guide. Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, gets a yellow light, which makes sense, since his state of Vermont has no parimutuel gambling or casinos, and he has never voiced much in the way of gambling policy other than the degree to which Internet gaming should be regulated.

What Sanders and Clinton have in common, however, is a high rating on animal welfare issues, including support of federal legislation to effectively ban horse slaughter. During her U.S. Senate tenure, Clinton was a co-sponsor of the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, while Sanders is a co-sponsor of the current Safeguard American Food Products Act, which would ban the sale or transport of horses for slaughter traced to livestock auctions like the one in Sugarcreek, Ohio. For what it’s worth, neither Sen. Cruz nor Sen. Rubio have signed on to that one.