Updated on 09/16/2011 8:03AM

Medication reform discussed at Round Table


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Gary Biszantz, the chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, targeted veterinarians for administering unnecessary medications to horses and called for the racing industry "to go back to thinking that the horse, safety and fairness is more important" then medication during a speech Sunday at the Jockey Club Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing at the Sheraton Hotel in Saratoga Springs.

Biszantz, who received the longest and loudest applauce of the 2 1/2 hour conference, cited statistics that showed that horses make 50 percent less starts per year today than 30 years ago. Biszantz also cited Jockey Club figures showing that the average horse races for only two years today, compared to four years 30 years ago.

"I personally believe that we were led astray years ago by some, just some, in the racing industry that led us to believe that increased medication use would increase field sizes, would allow us to race longer, that they would make more starts per year," Biszantz said. "The facts today clearly show that the reverse is true for every promise."

Biszantz is a leader in an ongoing medication reform effort that is attempting to develop a uniform medication policy for the entire U.S. racing industry and consolidate the sport's drug-testing and research. The reformers last met on July 16 and have scheduled a follow-up meeting in October.

Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Task Force on Drug-Testing and Medication, said during separate comments at the Round Table that the reformers have succeeded in drafting a business plan for the organization and have also drafted a preliminary model rules document. Waterman also said that the group has raised $625,000 so far to fund its operations. The group hopes to raise $1 million to fund the organization for the next three years, Waterman said, until it can develop a permanent funding mechanism.

Also at the Round Table, the NTRA gave a presentation on the "opportunities and issues of globalization." NTRA officials attempted during the presentation to make the case that horse racing can tap into an estimated $85 billion in handle outside the U.S. by better promoting the domestic racing product and pushing for legislation that would open up foreign markets.

"The world is a much smaller place now," said Tim Smith, the commissioner of the NTRA. "Horse racing is one of those sports, like golf, that crosses borders with ease."

However, Greg Avioli, the NTRA's deputy commissioner, said that several legislative hurdles will have to be cleared before the U.S. racing industry can exploit foreign markets. Tax regulations, for example, largely make commingling foreign wagers into U.S. pools extremely problematic, and many other countries have laws on the books prohibiting betting on foreign racing.

Avioli said a bill that would lift the tax restrictions on wagering from a foreign country into U.S. pools has been introduced in the House of Representatives, and that he was hopeful it would pass late this year after the November elections. But he said getting foreign governments to lift their "protectionist" policies on prohibiting betting on imported international signals would be much more difficult.

"We do not expect, and I don't want to mislead you, that this can be easily done," Avioli said.

The globalization discussion was preceded by presentations on marketing horse ownership to a wider range of people and the progress on the international Horse Genome Project, which is an effort to map the equine genome to develop therapies to fight diseases and treat other problems.