05/26/2011 1:48PM

Q&A: Alan Foreman

Barbara D. Livingston

As the general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, he is involved in a number of important issues in the Mid-Atlantic region and nationally. He was interviewed last weekend at Pimlico.

Birthdate: March 22, 1950, in Baltimore, Md.

Family: wife, Randi; sons, Alexander, Adam, and Kevin

Got into racing because. . . “I grew up 15 minutes from here. I dated a girl in high school whose father owned Charles Town. I was just a casual racing fan. I worked for a law firm whose clients represented Pimlico, then worked in the Maryland attorney general’s office, starting in 1979. My first trial was representing the stewards after the 1980 Preakness, with Codex and Genuine Risk. That was baptism under fire. It launched my career.”

That was an interesting time in Maryland racing: “There were a lot of high-profile issues with phenylbutazone, Lasix, medication controversies, Cowboy Jack Kaenel’s problems. It got me a lot of experience with various aspects of the industry.”

Like much of the country, it seems like this is a time of great change in Maryland. What are some of the things you are doing through the MTHA to keep racing viable here? “The last two years the number of racing days has been reduced to 146, which is significantly reduced from 10 years ago, when it was in excess of 220 race days. Our circuit was one of the first to realize that we needed to contract. We close down for the summer so Colonial can run. This is a year-round economy. There’s $3 billion related to the equine industry, and it employs 10,000 people. We’re not Cirque du Soleil, where we pack up and go away. The 146-day schedule allows us to maintain a viable, year-round presence and to keep the purse levels at a point where you can have a credible program.”

But that dates situation was in peril last year: “What is complicating things now is the partnership between MI Developments and Penn National Gaming. Penn Gaming came in for one reason − gaming. Their attitude is that if they cannot operate a casino, they wanted to pursue a lighter racing schedule. Frank Stronach said he would run 146 days. Penn Gaming didn’t want to run that much. They only wanted to run 40 days. That started a crisis last year. It threatened the Preakness. The governor intervened, got everybody to Annapolis, and we came to an agreement. The current schedule is legislated through 2013. We’ve stabilized the business. Now we need to figure out how we go forward. Every idea, every issue, has to be on the table.”

Maryland clearly has been impacted by neighboring states like Delaware and West Virginia having gaming. Is there any chance racing here will get significant gaming relief? “We don’t know. The general assembly is going to revisit the issue. There’s a move to expand the number of sites. There’s one available license currently, in downtown Baltimore. Stronach is taking Laurel and Pimlico private. I think there’s no chance of gaming at Laurel, from a public policy standpoint. There’s a casino going up five miles from Laurel, which will be to the detriment of Laurel. Is Pimlico a possibility? Only if downtown Baltimore does not happen. There’s a lot of practical and community issues, but this would be a great location.

The other thing would be to really think outside the box and build an entirely new racing facility, but there’s a lot of issues there. Not getting the slot license at Laurel was a significant setback. That’s why we are in the position we are in with Laurel. If Magna had filed their license with the necessary fees, we wouldn’t be in this position. That was a seminal moment. We knew life would not be the same again.”

How do you see the local circuit evolving? “We’re beginning to look at a regional approach. The MATCH series from a decade ago, we’re going to bring that back next year. The shortage of horses dictates a regional approach. That plays into dates. We can improve the quality of races on a regional basis. I think, going forward, a regional approach is best.”

Let’s move on to medication, which you are deeply involved in. Where do you stand on the current calls, particularly from Congress, to reduce or eliminate Lasix and other medication? “We have taken a leadership role on medication. My initial problem with the discussion is trying to understand the issue. Is it Lasix? Is it overmedication? Is it chemical warfare? What are they talking about? We have statistics on how clean the sport is. It isn’t perfect. But it’s a lot cleaner than others, especially on race day. Lasix is strictly regulated. You have to give it at a certain time in a certain amount. It’s tested post-race. That prevents the masking of drugs. To say it masks drugs is nonsense.

There was a study commissioned in 2008-09 by various racing interests, including The Jockey Club, that was considered unassailable. We wanted evidence based on scientific fact, not anecdotes. The study was done in South Africa, with a valid statistical population, and it concluded that Lasix works and is beneficial to the welfare of the horse.

Horses have bled for 50 years, and they’re going to continue to bleed whether we get rid of Lasix or not. So you have an issue here related to the welfare of the horse. It’s much more complicated than saying you should phase it out in five years. Do we want what’s best for the animals? What are the consequences of eliminating it? It could complicate the unwanted horse population. If you allow them to bleed, what does that mean to the bettor? The reason Lasix was allowed was to level the field. It was done out of fairness. It’s a safe drug. We need to calm down and take a slow, intensive look. The primary decision needs to be made based on what’s best for the welfare of the horse.”

What about calls to reduce the amount of allowable Bute on race day? “On phenylbutazone, there is a call to go from five micrograms to two micrograms, but we are already at two in the Mid-Atlantic region, so that’s a non-issue for us. I think that’s important to note, because for those who like to say that horsemen fight medication every chance, well, that’s simply not true. One of the big problems with medication is that the labs doing the testing test at different levels. There are problems with multiple offenders, like [Richard Dutrow Jr.]. But those are regulatory problems.”

Future ambitions? “One, we have to reinvent the business. I’d like to see it reinvented and stabilized for the future. Two, we have to reinvent drug testing in this country. We have to invest in research and root out the cheaters so that the sport is above reproach. And three, I’d like to get Maryland racing back on its feet. I started here, I live here. This is closest to my heart.”