10/10/2003 12:00AM

Racing's own secretary-general


Ever heard of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, also known as the IFHA?

If your answer is no, you are not alone. Unlike the Jockey Club, the British Horseracing Board, the Irish Turf Club, France-Galop, the Japan Racing Association, the Hong Kong Jockey Club or the Emirates Racing Association, IFHA toils in anonymity.

Yet it has been around since 1967, and this week completed its 37th annual conference in Paris, at which all of the above named organizations were represented.

Chaired by France-Galop's Louis Romanet, the IFHA aspires to become racing's United Nations. High-sounding phrases like "chief goals," "the high ground," "integrity of the industry," and "major issues that affect us all" were tossed about willy-nilly during the week. The highlight of the conference was when Romanet announced the creation of the IFHA's first paid position, a commercial director who will make 200,000 euros ($235,000) a year.

The new director will be to IFHA members something like what Kofi Annan is to the U.N. He will have the responsibility of dealing with the IFHA's 65 members from 54 countries. Moreover, he must be able to speak French as well as English, presumably so that he will be able to understand the instructions he receives from unpaid IFHA chairman Romanet.

Shortly before the announcement of the position, Romanet was re-elected to a new three-year term as IFHA chairman. Christopher Foster of the English Jockey Club, Alan Marzelli of the American Jockey Club, and Larry Wong of the Hong Kong Jockey Club were named vice-chairmen. It is sincerely hoped that this trio will be instrumental in weeding out some of racing's vices, like doping and illegal pick six wagers.

The newly configured IFHA got off to a rocky start when an appeal by eight member nations - Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, India, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Turkey - to join them in their Good Neighbor Policy was rejected by the powerful racing nations of the West.

The Good Neighbor Policy is an initiative taken by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to protect racing in the former British colony from the long and sinuous tentacles of foreign gambling interests. The Japan Racing Association was first to join up. It has since been followed by six other national racing bodies. It is the Policy's stated intention that member nations will not supply wagering to residents of other member nations, nor solicit, market, or advertise wagering without prior authorization from other member nations.

The Policy's major concerns are illegal and offshore betting operations, which have cut deeply into the Hong Kong Jockey Club's profits in recent years.

The British were the first to balk at the invitation to become more neighborly. As the British Horseracing Board's secretary general Tristram Ricketts pointed out, British racing officials have no control over betting in Britain. Indeed, if British racing cannot control betting on races in Britain, what chance has it of exerting any influence on betting in Hong Kong or Japan?

One of the underchairmen named to root out vice in racing, the English Jockey Club's Foster, is rightly worried about disproportionate penalties in many countries for similar offenses. Foster noted that the penalties for jockeys failing to ride out a finish can range from zero days in the United States to 18 months in Australia.

Another area Foster might investigate is that of abuse of the whip. In America, jockeys are allowed as many whacks as they please. In Britain, more than four cracks and a rider will probably have earned himself a two-day suspension, something that can come in handy every summer when the wife and kids are screaming to get to the beach.

To root out these evils, the IFHA is proposing re-education courses for racetrack stewards. Tony Barnes, the chief executive of The Jockey Club of Southern Africa, noted that there is much common ground despite the different systems around the world.

Try talking about common ground to Shayne Cahill, the Australian rider who was suspended for one year by the stewards of the Selangor Turf Club in Kuala Lumpur for failing "to take all reasonable measures throughout the race" when he rode Kim Music from last to second behind Zap N Lari in a race at Sungei Besi on March 30.

After two failed appeals, the stewards found plenty of common ground among themselves and increased Cahill's suspension to four years.

One area in which the IFHA has taken a positive step is in its takeover of the International Classifications Committee. Previously under the banner of the European Pattern Committee, the ICC now should, in theory, have a more international outlook. However, the naming of the old Anglo-Irish axis, Nigel Gray and Ciaran Kennely, as co-chairmen of the ICC, promises more of the same pro-British bias, which has always plagued the International Classifications and the Breeders' Cup World Rankings.

Perhaps Romanet can offer Kofi Annan the 200,000-euro salary to sort things out.