08/11/2014 3:22PM

Jockey Club going down two roads to seek same ending

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With the Jockey Club announcement on Sunday that it intends to press for federal oversight of racing, the industry is likely to find itself going down two separate, highly complex paths over the next several years to reach the same end – uniform rules on medications, drugs, and penalties.

The avenue supported by the Jockey Club is to get the federal government involved, using legislation that would put in place a top-down approach to racing regulation, including the designation of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a private company that conducts testing of U.S. Olympic athletes, as the overseer of the sport’s drug policies. The other path, supported by various other organizations, including horsemen’s groups, would seek uniformity by continuing to press racing commissions to adopt a set of uniform medication rules that have been hashed out over the past several years in discussions with a broad set of racing constituents.

Why the different strategies? To the Jockey Club, the pace of adoption by racing states is not fast enough, according to comments made by its vice chairman, Stuart Janney, and its chairman, Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, at the organization’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing on Sunday in Saratoga Springs. While both acknowledged the progress being made in the state-by-state approach and maintained that the Jockey Club would still support adoption at the state level, Janney put up slides during his Round Table presentation indicating that the large majority of racing states hadn’t even begun to consider some of the Jockey Club’s requirements for uniformity, such as a new penalty schedule designed to more severely punish repeat violators of the sport’s medication policies.

“There are those who look at these numbers and believe that, given time, this industry will achieve uniformity, that uniformity is just around the corner,” Janney said. “I wish I did. We are better than before, but it would be a stretch to call it uniformity.”

The snapshot provided by Janney was one of an industry in a state of transition. Many states are moving to reach contracts with accredited labs, a requirement under the model rules, and the majority of major racing states are at some stage of adoption of the model rules, with some obvious outliers, like Louisiana. Janney’s comments also didn’t give recognition to the complexity of rule-making in the modern age, which can include the involvement of multiple agencies of state government and, in some cases, the legislature itself.

For example, the entire Florida racing industry, with the Jockey Club, went to the state legislature this year to lobby for legislation that would enable the policy to be put in place, and the legislature shrugged off the request. Another state, New York, didn’t make Janney’s list, because the rules that have already been approved by the racing commission are mired in a government agency and can’t be posted for public comment until they are released.

Supporters of the state-by-state approach contend that the Jockey Club is jumping the gun by pushing for federal intervention. The optimists in the movement contend that the industry could get states representing 90 percent of the U.S. handle to be fully on board by the end of 2015.

While that level of support may seem admirable for a sport that doesn’t even have standards on when to start timing a race, 90 percent is not uniform. The Jockey Club has maintained that the “vast majority” of states had to have the model rules in place by August of this year.

The Jockey Club has strong support from a small but powerful group of owners and breeders who are convinced that cheating by trainers is going on undetected at the highest levels of the game, despite policies put in place over the past several years to subject top-class horses to special security and drug-testing protocols, such as detention barns and out-of-competition testing.

On Monday morning, those supporters, along with Jockey Club officials, gathered at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame to hear a presentation from Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the USADA. It was Tygart and USADA which caught cyclist Lance Armstrong with illegal doping.

Tygart laid out the rationale for using an organization such as the USADA to set drug policies and investigate potential wrongdoing, focusing on the standing of the company as an “independent agency” that is not beholden to the sport it is policing. Recent versions of legislation setting up federal oversight of racing – which have not faced a vote at any level of government yet – named the USADA as that agency.

But Tygart acknowledged that the racing industry is not set up in a way to allow the USADA to oversee its policies without fundamental, wide-ranging changes in how the sport is regulated, since the USADA doesn’t have any intrinsic authority. Furthermore, the USADA would have to enforce policies that have been established in consultation with the racing industry to determine where to draw the line on therapeutic medications and illegal drugs – opening up the industry once again to the debate over those medications, including raceday use of furosemide.

Despite the enormity of those logistical challenges – and the doubts that lawmakers would pass any federal-oversight legislation without a broad industry consensus on the need for it – the owners and breeders at Tygart’s presentation swamped him with positive comments about the role the USADA could play in a game that they believe is deeply troubled.

“You’re on the right side of this issue,” Tygart told them. “Who can disagree with fairness and integrity?”