12/07/2005 1:00AM

North America's two major racing-regulator groups merge


TUCSON, Ariz. - The Association of Racing Commissioners International and the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Associations - the two umbrella groups for racing regulators in North America - agreed Tuesday to immediately merge their operations, ending an eight-year split between the two organizations. The newly merged organization will be known at Racing Commissioners International.

Ed Martin, the president of RCI, said late Tuesday that the agreement was reached at a meeting between officials of the two organizations in Tucson earlier that day. Though the agreement makes the merger official as of Jan. 1, Martin said that the operations had already begun to be consolidated.

"It's a done deal," Martin said. "As of right now, we're one group."

NAPRA was formed eight years ago after a group of state regulators split from the RCI because of a bitter disagreement over the salary and benefits package of the RCI's former president, Tony Chamblin. NAPRA has 21 member jurisdictions, including the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, but most of its members are from minor racing states.

During the split, the two groups performed many of the same functions, including making recommendations on model rules for horse racing commissions and maintaining databases that contain rulings on racing licenses. Martin said the databases will be merged.

As part of the agreement, Paul Bowlinger, the executive director of NAPRA, will become the RCI's executive vice president. According to a statement issued by the two organizations, the boards of both groups voted unanimously to approve the merger.

The merger will likely help to facilitate a plan by the RCI to create an organization that will monitor the country's electronic bet-processing system for fraud. Martin has been pressing for the plan, and the RCI board was expected to discuss it Wednesday in Tucson, where the annual Symposium on Racing and Gaming is being held.

Jockey Club won't use chip program

At the Symposium on Tuesday afternoon, officials of The Jockey Club said during a panel examining the use of microchips to identify horses that they had foregone a plan to use the chips.

Matt Iuliano, the vice president of The Jockey Club's registration services, said that the costs of the program outweighed the benefits, largely because the technology would not significantly improve The Jockey Club's ability to perform registrations and verify the parentage of horses.

The use of microchips has already been adopted in the United Kingdom, where every horse has been required to have a chip as of 1999. Each chip, which is implanted in the neck, has a unique identification number.

Dan Fick, the executive director of The Jockey Club, said that while the use of the chips might ease the registration process, the chips would be redundant to the current registration process. The U.S. racing industry relies on DNA typing, reports of stallion coverings and mares bred, foal registrations, lip tattoos, and a horse's coat markings to verify a horse's parentage and identity.

"You can't just identify an animal with a microchip or a lip tattoo," Fick said. "You need all of these things."

Andrea Mercer, the stud book manager in the United Kingdom, said that the use of microchips has eased the registration process in Britain and Ireland, where the annual foal crop is approximately 17,000 horses. More than twice that number of horses are registered in the U.S. each year.

Iuliano pointed out that because of the geographic diversity of the U.S. breeding industry, one of the problems with implementing a microchip program would be the vast amounts of territory that Jockey Club officials would have to cover in order to implant the chips. In Britain, the implantation of the chips is conducted by licensed veterinarians, who receive the chips from Weatherbys, the keeper of the British Stud Book, Mercer said.

Still, despite the Jockey Club's decision to forgo the mandatory use of microchips, The Jockey Club is encouraging horse owners to implant the chips as an aid in tracking horses' movements from farms and racetracks. Fick said The Jockey Club may adopt a mandatory program if a "critical mass" of horse owners make the decision to implant the chips on their own.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is pressing a plan to require microchips in every livestock animal in the U.S. by 2007. The American Horse Council and The Jockey Club are participating in discussions about the plan, which is seen as a way to control disease outbreaks and avert bioterrorist attacks, Fick said.