08/20/2006 11:00PM

Ideas echo at the Spa


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - In his closing remarks at Sunday's Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing, Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps said that "none of the problems this industry faces, whether it's medication, wagering systems, illegal betting, equine injuries, or Thoroughbred racing in New York state, can be solved without a unified effort."

It was a noble yet incongruous statement to make at the end of the Round Table, the annual event put on by The Jockey Club and held this year at the Gideon Putnam Hotel here. Several of the speakers at this year's event announced projects that actually duplicated existing efforts already within the industry, while Charles Hayward, the chief executive of the New York Racing Association, continued to try to rally support for NYRA in the face of a rapidly growing effort by many industry leaders to supplant the association as the operator of the state's three most popular tracks.

While many of the efforts outlined at the Round Table are in their formative stages, the string of competing claims and projects has the potential to take its toll on the industry, which is increasingly relying on private and public donations to fund efforts to tackle drug abuse, loopholes in the industry's bet-processing network, and other issues.

In fact, in back-to-back presentations, racing officials announced that a $3 million fundraising effort to begin a research laboratory at the University of California-Los Angeles had succeeded to the point where the lab had been fully staffed and equipped. Yet minutes earlier, Scot Waterman, the head of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a research and development group founded by the racing industry in 2001, said that donations to his group have fallen off to the point where the group's 2007 budget is in peril.

The UCLA laboratory, which is called the Equine Drug Research Institute, is expected to conduct research into developing new tests for drugs that are difficult, if not impossible, to detect so far, and then distribute the new tests to existing drug-testing laboratories. The effort to begin the laboratory was announced at last year's Round Table.

Waterman's group, in comparison, has spent the last five years developing model rules on medication usage, penalties, and drug testing, but the testing consortium has also begun awarding grants to organizations to conduct research into developing new tests. After the Round Table, Waterman acknowledged that the institution of the UCLA lab is having an impact on the financial support for his consortium, since both efforts draw their funding from many of the same organizations.

"I implore the industry to get behind this effort," Waterman said in his closing remarks, in what amounted to a plea for more funding.

When the Round Table moved to wagering security, Frank Fabian, the president of the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau - a racetrack-owned investigative unit - announced a project to develop hardware and software to monitor betting pools in concert with InCompass, a company owned by the Jockey Club. That effort is nearly identical to a project begun earlier this year by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for racing regulators.

After the Round Table, Ed Martin, the president of the RCI, called the development of the protective bureau's monitoring system "a positive step that is long overdue." Martin, however, was also critical of the system because the technology would be owned and operated by racetracks, not regulatory associations.

"This program . . . does not alleviate the need for the independent testing and monitoring of the wagering system by those who are truly independent," Martin said.

Both systems, which are designed to flag suspicious wagers or betting patterns for further investigation, are not expected to be online until later this year, at least four years after wagering security became an issue for the racing industry following the 2002 Breeders' Cup pick six scandal.

The Round Table concluded with presentations from Hayward and J. Patrick Barrett, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, which is overseeing the process to award NYRA's franchise after it expires at the end of 2007. Hayward's and Barrett's presentations had been made elsewhere at conferences preceding the Round Table, but it was Hayward's first presentation since a group competing for the franchise, Empire Racing Associates, consolidated a vast number of racing groups, including Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., and Scientific Games, under its for-profit banner.

During his presentation, Hayward continually hammered home NYRA's main talking point, that a nonprofit racing association will better serve New York's racing interests by maximizing the returns to trainers, owners, and breeders. As it stands now, NYRA is expected to be the only nonprofit bidder for the franchise when responses to the Ad Hoc Committee's request for proposals are due on Aug. 29.

In an attempt to make his presentation germane to the Round Table, Hayward pointed to the companies that have currently contributed funding to the Equine Drug Research Institute. While he did not single out any individual company, both Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment did not contribute to the institute, and four of the five companies that contributed major funding were nonprofits, including NYRA.

"I will submit that there are some considerable for-profit companies that are conspicuous by their absence," Hayward said.