08/11/2013 4:18PM

Jockey Club to push for federal regulation of racing if uniform drug rules aren't adopted

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The Jockey Club will push for federal regulation of horse racing if the vast majority of racing states do not adopt a set of uniform medication rules that has already been endorsed by a handful of major racing organizations, the chairman of The Jockey Club said Sunday at the close of the Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing.

Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, the owner of the racing and breeding operation Phipps Stable, made the remark after a separate speaker at the Round Table had presented the results of a recent poll of horseplayers and casual fans suggesting widespread support for uniform rules.

Phipps displayed a chart showing that eight racing states, mostly on the Eastern seaboard, already have vowed to adopt the rules by Jan. 1. Another four states, including Kentucky and Illinois, are in the process of securing an endorsement, Phipps said, leaving 17 states, including Florida and Texas, without a position on the uniform rules.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is not uniformity,” Phipps said. “The racing poll you heard about today told us in no uncertain terms how both casual fans and avid horseplayers feel about medication and the integrity of competition. Clearly, our wagering handle and our business is being compromised. The international community is watching us closely and still wondering why this country allows such liberal medication policies.”

Over the past several years, as The Jockey Club has pushed for medication reform, the organization’s officials have refrained from explicitly supporting federal oversight of the sport, which is a sensitive topic in the racing industry. Racing is regulated on the state level, and many critics of federal regulation fear that a federal framework could be too easily exploited by opponents of racing or gambling, or by animal-welfare organizations that support a ban on racing altogether.

Resistance to federal regulation also has been mounted by many entrenched state organizations that owe their existence and funding to the current regulatory framework. Those organizations are expected to continue to oppose federal oversight of the sport, but Phipps’s statement seemed to introduce the threat that those organizations must toe The Jockey Club’s line on reform or face dissolution.

As the concluding remarks, Phipps’s suggestion of federal oversight was carefully calibrated to reflect the tenor of this year’s Round Table, The Jockey Club’s annual presentation on the issues in racing it considers to be the most pressing. The Round Table’s two keynote speakers, Masayuki Goto, the executive director of the Japan Racing Association, and Brian Kavanagh, the chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, closed their speeches with remarks on the importance of safeguarding the integrity of the sport.

Those remarks were made just prior to the presentation on the poll results, some of which were gleaned by asking bettors to state whether they agreed with a series of somewhat-leading statements, such as whether they support “uniform rules.”

Robert Green, who presented the results as a principal in the polling group Penn Schoen Berland, said the results of the survey prove that medications “aren’t just a threat to the finish line, but also the bottom line,” because the survey respondents indicated that they were not betting as much on races in which illegal medications were believed to play a factor.

Green said the poll respondents were directed to the survey by the Horseplayers Association of North America and the sheet-maker Thoro-Graph, whose founders administer Internet sites that often encourage spirited commentary about drugs in racing.

While support for such a concept as “uniform rules” seems logical to an extreme, state racing regulations evolved in an era when the shipment of horses across state lines was not nearly as prevalent or easy as it is now. During that time, state horsemen’s organizations largely protected their own turf or supported regulations that might not be in place in other states, and the result was a hodgepodge of rules among the 38 jurisdictions that allow some form of pari-mutuel racing.

The trend also resulted in a gradual liberalizing of medication use in horse racing, in line with a larger movement in both human and veterinary medicine over the past two decades, in which medications increasingly play a role in medical diagnoses.

In the past year, however, support has coalesced around a set of uniform rules devised by a committee of representatives of a wide cross section of racing organizations, including horsemen’s groups and Jockey Club-supported organizations.

The rules allow for the controlled therapeutic use of 24 medications and prohibit the race-day administration of all drugs but furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication that is legal to use in all North American racing jurisdictions. The race-day use of furosemide is prohibited in most other racing jurisdictions around the world.  

Supporters of a ban on the race-day use of furosemide, including The Jockey Club, have run up against steadfast resistance from horsemen’s groups, which point to a study sponsored by The Jockey Club that indicated that the drug was effective in mitigating severe bleeding in horses. The study simultaneously suggested that the drug is overused, leading to split opinions over the study’s most pertinent conclusion.

While The Jockey Club still supports a ban on the race-day use of furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, the organization last year decided to remove language calling for a ban from the model-rules document in order to allow the rules to gain support among horsemen. Still, several speakers at the Round Table referenced the drug in their presentations, including Dr. Hiram Polk, a Jockey Club member who is an owner and breeder and renowned Kentucky surgeon.

With the meticulously stage-managed two-hour conference running long at the time he took the stage, Polk presented the abbreviated results of a study he oversaw evaluating the performances of horses in Australia based on the prevalence of North American horses in their three-cross pedigrees.

He claimed that the study demonstrated that horses with sizeable North American pedigree influences performed better in the Australian races than horses without North American influences.

“We believe that this data prove that three generations of North American Thoroughbreds are not genetically tainted even when racing and presumptively exposed to race-day medications,” he said. “These data also conform to and confirm that North American Thoroughbreds do not require Lasix in order to race competitively overseas.”

Other medication and safety issues also got airtime. Matt Iuliano, The Jockey Club’s executive director, gave a presentation on the recent work of the organization’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee, which issued three recommendations in conjunction with the Round Table. One of the recommendations was a call to adopt the uniform medication rules referenced multiple times during the conference.

Another, however, was a recommendation to require the electronic reporting of veterinary treatments for all horses who have recorded at least one workout to a new Electronic Treatment Records Database. Drawing on the success of the Equine Injury Database, launched four years ago, Iuliano said the treatment database would allow regulators to apply a “full array of quantitative tools” to the data in order to recognize patterns in treatments and gauge the outcomes of medication use, for better or worse.

The third recommendation was to urge states to adopt different standards for determining which horses should be selected for post-race drug tests. Under the recommendation, stewards would be given the discretion to order post-race tests on the horses they believed deserved the most scrutiny, rather than the standard recommendation to test the top finishers and any beaten favorites.

The standards already have been adopted in Kentucky, where regulators have said they are as effective as the earlier standards and have lowered drug-testing costs, allowing for more funds to be diverted toward research and other medication or safety initiatives.

In a similar vein, Stuart Janney III, the vice chairman of The Jockey Club and the chairman of the Thoroughbred Safety Committee, announced at the Round Table that The Jockey Club had approved a project to award $250,000 annually for the next two years to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium to implement an out-of-competition testing program that would focus on the horses competing in racing’s most prominent races.
The intent would be to look for blood-doping drugs or other performance-enhancing substances that are difficult to detect when used long before a race.

“It can be a powerful deterrent, and in our sport, it is a perfect bookend to post-race sampling,” Janney said. “We know that new technologies are capable of creating long-lasting performance-enhancing effects when administered weeks prior to the competition, and there are substances that leave no traces or residues detectable during normal post-competition testing. We know that.”

A counterweight to all the discussion over racing’s regulatory and medication ills was provided at the conference by Mike Mulvihill, a senior vice president of Fox Sports Media Group, who practically gushed with enthusiasm over the network’s recently announced partnership with The Jockey Club on 10 racing broadcasts slated to debut in 2014 on Fox’s new all-sports network.

Mulvihill said Fox wanted to turn casual viewers into “everyday fans” by focusing not on the pageantry of the sport – which can be overplayed by many television networks, in the opinion of nearly all core racing fans – but on the intricacies of horsemanship and gambling.

Sounding as if he understood the racing business more than most full-time racing commentators, Mulvihill said racing’s business model is “unique” because it will never derive significant amounts of revenue from television rights fees. The answer, he said, is to play up racing’s wagering aspects during  the broadcasts in order to strengthen its core revenue stream – betting.

“Most of our media partners [derive] the bulk of their revenues through the sale of media rights, and therefore, for a partner like the National Football League, success on television is a profitable end in and of itself,” Mulvihill said. “The typical NFL viewer is a driver of revenue even if they never buy a jersey or a ticket to a game. Racing is different. TV revenue will never be more than a tiny fraction of national handle, so while it’s obviously a goal of mine to help grow viewing of horse racing, we can’t look at the ratings as an end to themselves.

“Instead, we should look at TV coverage as a means to a larger goal, and as an ongoing promotional vehicle that inspires passive viewers to become active players who will contribute to growth in handle. That has to be our mission.”