06/22/2008 11:00PM

Moss calls for united effort


Jennifer Moss, 19, was flipping though the channels at a friend's house last Thursday morning when her attention was grabbed by the image of a talking head on C-SPAN3. By all accounts, this is not her programming of choice. Hardly anyone's programming of choice, in fact. C-SPAN3 is for hardcore shut-ins and civics wonks. Unsuspecting viewers might stumble on such things as a re-creation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates using hand puppets, or a dreary hearing of, say, the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

But that face, that voice, that hairline! It was her father, Randy Moss, the racing analyst known for his work on ESPN and ABC, answering a question about horse racing posed by a member of that very Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

"It was about 10 o'clock and she thought it was the news," said Moss, in defense of his daughter's viewing tastes. "She thought I had gotten into trouble and was in court, and she was so embarrassed she didn't tell anyone I was her father and quickly changed the channel."

The next day, she phoned the Moss estate in Tulsa to ask, "Is everything okay with Dad?"

Everything was fine, of course, but only up to a point. The fact that Moss was testifying before a congressional committee at all was an indication that someone, somewhere had screwed up.

It wasn't Moss. But he had a pretty good idea who. Committee hearings at that level are rarely held to tell the leaders of an industry they've been doing a heckuva job. One need only recall recent scenes of Big Tobacco CEOs summoned before Congress to defend their jacked-up nicotine levels in cigarettes, or leaders of major oil companies being asked why they are making more money right now than ever before in the history of making money.

"Imagine if the NFL permitted every state to field as many pro football teams as it wanted, to play as many games as it wanted all year round, and create different rules of play in each state, with no national league guidelines to speak of," Moss told the committee. "Incredibly, this is how American racing is currently being played."

Jaws dropped. Moss pressed on.

"The states that have been entrusted with regulating horse racing have proven unable and unwilling, more importantly, to rectify many of the problems," he said. "However a national focus can be accomplished, this issue desperately needs a solution."

The hearing ended with veiled threats to nationalize the regulation of horse racing by amending the Interstate Horseracing Act. Fine. Good luck with that. For whoever ends up in charge, though, it will be just as important to cut through the rhetoric and align priorities, minus the hysteria of the Eight Belles and Barbaro tragedies.

Please note:

It is not about racing 2-year-olds. It is about which 2-year-olds are racing. Any horse coming out of a 2-year-olds in training sale should be barred by racetracks from parimutuel competition for at least 90 days, hopefully time enough for the effects of sales preparation and running a 19-second pre-sale quarter-mile to have left the system.

It is not about the breeding, although it can't hurt to try. There is only one bunch who can impact the behavior of breeders in the short term, and that is The Jockey Club, by its policies of registration and acceptance of stallions in The Stud Book. Testifying after Moss, Alan Marzelli of The Jockey Club cited a reluctance to meddle with the primal forces of the free market. He suggested his organization had the power of persuasion and consensus-building, which in this tough game is about as effective as bad breath and colorful language.

It is not about therapeutic medication. It is about the perception of a hodgepodge collection of inconsistently enforced medication rules. The drug issue would go away if there was a conservative, uniform set of rules with ample funding for testing and quality control of that testing. Believe it or not, the various racing states are not all that far apart. According to the website of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium - a group populated by regulators, horsemen, veterinarians, and racetrack executives - there are 33 states that either have adopted or are in the process of adopting RMTC model rules. If a state does not come in line with these rules - and soon - its competition should be considered unsanctioned by racing's record-keepers.

Finally, it is not about a national commissioner of racing. In the wake of his impassioned, articulate testimony, Moss awoke the next day to hear his name bandied about as a prime candidate for the job of racing's front man. What a terrible thing to wish on a perfectly honorable guy. The idea of an overlord, a czar, or even a czarina is a sop to media fly-bys who need to put a face and a sound bite to an issue before it can be digested. Horse racing is never going to be the NFL. But it can be, as Moss put it, "more like the United Nations." Emphasis on "united."