08/10/2014 4:04PM

Jockey Club pushes for reforms at Round Table


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The Jockey Club did not back away from a threat to press for federal regulation of the sport in light of what it believes to be inadequate progress in addressing medication use in racing, with the organization’s top official saying at Sunday’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing in Saratoga Springs that the Jockey Club’s board has approved a “multi-pronged effort” that includes a push for federal legislation and a renewed attack on the race-day use of furosemide.

Addressing the crowd as the final speaker at the two-hour Round Table, Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, the chairman of the Jockey Club, said the effort approved by the board during a meeting Saturday also called for the organization to “investigate a relationship” with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a private company that conducts drug testing of Olympic athletes. The relationship envisions, in its most radical form, the USADA conducting all of the sport’s drug-testing and research, supplanting myriad laboratories that have conducted testing on behalf of state racing commissions for, in some cases, decades.

In addition, the Jockey Club will continue to work on the individual state level to press for adoption of a set of uniform rules supported by the organization, Phipps said, especially in states where progress has been hard to come by, such as Florida, where legislators have failed to take up the rules despite the unanimous backing of the state’s racing constituents. And even though those uniform rules do not include a controversial ban on the race-day use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, also known as Lasix, the Jockey Club will continue to push for the ban, despite opposition from horsemen’s groups across the country.

One year ago, Phipps vowed at the 2013 Round Table that the Jockey Club would press for federal oversight of racing if the “vast majority” of racing jurisdictions had not implemented the set of uniform rules. Though a handful of states have made progress in implementing the rules and complying with other Jockey Club-supported requirements, such as working with accredited testing laboratories, Phipps and Stuart Janney, a Jockey Club vice chairman, made it clear during the Round Table the organization believed progress over the past 12 months fell well short of their expectations, despite the highly complex nature of getting the rules implemented in many states.

“At the end of the day, it’s clear that we need to do more,” Phipps said.

The Jockey Club believes the sport’s policies on race-day furosemide, medication use, and drug testing are at the root of the sport’s waning popularity. Its polling suggests that medication reform will draw more customers to the sport and give existing customers more confidence in the game.

The strategy to pursue federal legislation is a non-starter in many quarters of the racing industry, and earlier this week, lobbyists who work for the racing industry acknowledged it was highly unlikely federal lawmakers would support any bill granting the government oversight of the sport without sea changes in the makeup of the legislature and the unanimous backing of the racing industry. Over the past four years, three bills have been introduced by legislators advancing federal oversight and a race-day Lasix ban, yet none has ever come up for a vote at any level of government. The introduction of the legislation has come after some racing individuals supporting the Jockey Club's policies lobbied for the bills. 

Racetracks are especially fearful of federal legislation, under the concern that the bill would jeopardize the industry’s exemption on betting across state lines, the foundation of simulcast betting, which provides 90 percent of the racing's revenues. All versions of the federal-oversight bill have been tied to legislation passed in the 1970s that grants the exemption, the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, by giving the government the ability to deny simulcasting rights to states and tracks that fail to comply with the requirements in the bill.

Racetracks and other racing organizations also fear that special-interest groups hostile to racing could work more easily with the federal government to advance their agendas if a federal law laid out compliance requirements that might be difficult to implement or contain unexpected loopholes. Combined, those two concerns could lead a large number of racing companies and racing-related organizations to Washington, D.C., to oppose any bill.

While not providing any specifics, Phipps acknowledged that federal oversight could have “unintended consequences” during his remarks.

“We also appreciate the perspective of those who firmly believe the pursuit of federal legislation … may open a Pandora’s Box, and it may be jeopardizing the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which is so vital to the economic health of our industry,” said Phipps. “But we still think this is the correct route to take.”

Furosemide, a diuretic, has been legal to use on race day in every North American racing jurisdiction for nearly 20 years. Supporters point to scientific studies that indicate the drug is useful in mitigating the severity and frequency of bleeding in the lungs, while opponents contend that race-day use of any drug, even one that has therapeutic purposes, is a blatant sore on racing’s image. Opponents, many of whom are breeders, a main constituency of the Jockey Club, also contend use of the drug dampens demand for U.S. bloodstock in foreign jurisdictions, where race-day use is largely banned.

The Jockey Club has supported efforts to ban the drug in the U.S. over the past three years. Other organizations, such as the Breeders’ Cup and the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, also have put in place policies designed to curtail race-day use in the past three years, but those policies were rescinded in the wake of a lack of widespread industry support.

Horsemen’s groups that support both the uniform medication rules and the ongoing race-day use of furosemide have pointed to those failures to argue that the anti-Lasix faction needs to put its advocacy on a side burner, at least until the industry has pressed further on the state-by-state adoption of the uniform rules.

The Jockey Club will need widespread support for at least one of its proposals. During his remarks, Phipps suggested that racing could dramatically improve its drug-testing capabilities and its drug-testing research by giving those responsibilities to the USADA and paying for the work through a 2 percent purse deduction. That would mean that trainers and owners would shoulder the burden for funding the reform efforts through reduced purses, which in the U.S., are heavily subsidized by revenues from casinos. To do so, horsemen’s groups would presumably have to agree to a mandatory reduction through their individual agreements with racetracks, which are already the subject of intense negotiation in many instances.

Trainers and owners steadfastly resist reductions in purses for obvious reasons. In fact, in two states, Kentucky and California, horsemen’s groups have recently supported increases in the takeout – the amount of money withheld from payouts to bettors – to fund purse increases, despite outcries from horseplayers and the patently obvious decline in betting handle on the sport’s races over the past 10 years.

Phipps said the industry’s stakeholders should be prepared to sacrifice for the benefit of the sport’s future.

“As we leave here today, we shouldn’t be asking ourselves if we can afford to build such a program,” he said. “We should be asking ourselves if we can afford not to.”

kenneth More than 1 year ago
Beware involving Leviathan in the sport. The feds won't stop with regulating medication...they'll insinuate themselves in the wagering end soon enough. Who sups with the devil must use a long spoon. This whole idea reminds me of the fellow who jumped into the cactus because it seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Lorna Lentini More than 1 year ago
We simply cannot afford not to -- for the horses, most importantly -- and then the breeders, and not least of all, the bettors. We must bring ourselves in line with Europe and the rest of those who care to continue to support a sport (which is also a business) that typically spans generations. It's a sophisticated and complicated form of agriculture that will cease to exist otherwise; and that will be a great loss to thoughtful people, those with an attention span, everywhere. Sounds goofy, but it's true. Breeding stout, fast horses with endurance is like planting old-growth trees: It is hardly a short-term equation. And furthermore, you've got to be sneaky, because almost no one will get it.
Biggar W More than 1 year ago
This discussion is mostly about the race day use of Lasix. I don't see how that effects the bettor at all.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
I firmly believe that in theses matters concerning the future and integrity of racing it should not be left up to federal oversight. Or for that matter the hierarchy of The Jockey Club, who despite their concerns, have their own agendas. As well as having their hands DEEP into the cookie jar. It should be handled by a conglomerate of owners, breeders, and horseman who have knowledge of facts pertaining to equine health and safety and the future of racing. These decisions should never be forced upon racing participants by wealthy bullies stamping their feet.
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Atta Boy Thomas !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You can't post the truth on this website. It just gets moderated off. What a joke!
Barry Irwin More than 1 year ago
Matt, I think that once The Jockey Club throws its weight behind federal legislation it will get done. They have not yet done that. Now that The Jockey Club is on board, others will join in the push for federal legislation. Racing has proven itself to be woefully ineffective in policing itself. Now comes the digging in of people trying to keep their jobs and protect their turf. After that phase passes, some chance for real progress will take place. This is a big day for the horse.
Bryan E More than 1 year ago
I hope you're right. The people quickest to attack any mention of federal oversight and regulation usually have their rehearsed reasons ready. But invariably, they are part of the current problem of corruption and cheating. Most of them care nothing about the future of the sport other than how much money they can keep making as long as no one comes in and forces them to follow the rules, or worse, exposes what they have been up to.
Barry Irwin More than 1 year ago
Well this report sounds like the meeting I attended, unlike the report I just read in The Blood-Horse. Big day for the sport. Thanks to Dinny Phipps and The Jockey Club for not pulling an Obama by showing that a red line in the sand means something.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Meanwhile.....leading trainers like Pletcher and Lukas, who just last week endorsed a gradual phase out of lasix are running every first time starter ON LASIX. Two year olds and all. So do we think their is ANY truth behind these muli mouthed powers that be? You have influence. I say LEAD BY EXAMPLE! When folks do what they say, then changestarts. Otherwise, this is all on one big stage for positive publicity. AKA..lip service.
Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
There is no group more delusional and out of touch with reality than the Jockey Club and it's members. It is a sad and embarrassing commentary on the state of the industry.
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
This is a good article -- I learned alot from it. It's a very weird approach on the JC"s part to state that industry stakeholders should be prepared to sacrifice for the benefit of the sport's future. Brings to mind a couple of analogies: what other of our current political leaders has told us this repeatedly; and who died and made the Jockey Club king of horseracing? Seems like they could really save some money, instead of continually hiring the clueless McKenzie group, to use that money to get coached on how to make friends and influence people.
Biggar W More than 1 year ago
It seems like strange logic to acknowledge the validity of the idea that a change may essentially destroy the industry and then say “But we still think this is the correct route to take.”
nick More than 1 year ago
If the change is necessary then make it, and if the industry survives it deserves to exist. If it doesn't survive a necessary change, then it should go away. Ever hear the expression "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"?
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Yeah I've heard it . It's a stupid expression.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My uncle used to say that...until the accident.