05/06/2002 11:00PM

Ontario adopts rules to reduce squabbles

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TUCSON, Ariz. - Those who have been in racing long enough to get their feet wet - or burned - are aware of the misunderstandings that can occur between owners and trainers. They range from mild disagreements to wild fights and expensive litigation. A large part of the problem is the lack of written agreements as an industry standard.

But that will change soon in Ontario.

Stanley Sadinsky, chairman of the Ontario Racing Commission, has tackled the owner-trainer problem head on.

Sadinsky was honored last month in New York by the Association of Racing Commissioners International as best-of-breed for dedication, vision, and vitality on behalf of racing. He was mentioned recently in this space for imposing multiple $100,000 fines and five-year suspensions for hidden ownership and fraudulent training practices in Ontario. A university professor of law, he moves boldly, decisively, and courageously. He is a racing commissioner who believes in action rather than words.

Now he has mandated a Code of Conduct for owners and trainers. As of July 1 it will be a rule of racing in Ontario.

Sadinsky's latest step is intended to remove many of the causes of owner-trainer disputes and disagreements, and insure that the relationship between the two groups "shall be based on integrity, disclosure, maintaining the health and welfare of the horse, and acting in the best interests of racing."

This is not more racing rhetoric. It is a rule with teeth that can bite.

The rule requires that:

* Any person who may gain a benefit, financial or otherwise, directly or indirectly, in the sale, purchase, lease, or claiming of a racehorse must disclose in writing to all parties involved in the transaction the full details of how much he or she benefits. This is revolutionary, for many racing sales and purchases include trainer commissions coming and going, on both ends of the sale or purchase, frequently - customarily may be a better word - without revelation.

* All terms of a trainer's engagement must be set out in a written statement between the owner and trainer. At a minimum, a trainer shall advise an owner in written form as to the services to be provided for which the owner is responsible, including the trainer's daily rate schedule and commissions on purses earned by the horses in his care, and terms of payments.

* A trainer must notify an owner, as soon as is practical, of any material problems affecting the owner's horse that could affect its racing potential or ability to be trained on a continuous basis.

* Any offer to purchase an owner's horse must be in writing, and the trainer must notify the owner of any written offer received.

* A trainer must maintain records relating to the particulars of any medications administered to horses in his or her care, the term "medication" in this instance meaning any medication that could result in a positive test. All such documentary evidence will be kept confidential by the racing commission.

* An owner who wishes to change trainers must pay, before the time of transfer, any monies due the trainer to the date of transfer.

These rules clearly set forth relationships that in the past have been murky at best, and have created unpleasant and often litigious situations at worst. They provide a vehicle for honest relationships between owners and trainers, with no hidden costs or commissions. They provide owners with information they are fully entitled to have - but do not always receive - and they protect trainers from having owners take away their horses without paying training fees in full.

These are not imaginary problems, and all owners and trainers know - many painfully - that they exist.

The new rules are a major attempt at a solution to these problems, and since they are mandatory, not discretionary, they provide the Ontario Racing Commission with the power to enforce them, by denial of license or suspension. Sadinsky says it is not his intention to dictate the terms of any agreement between owner and trainer, but only to require that the trainer provide written information to the owner as to the manner in which changes will be made.

His new rules were passed in the interest of racing integrity, and in this case the word is not tossed around lightly.