Following the allegations raised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and reported on March 20, 2014, by The New York Times, many of us in the Thoroughbred industry are eagerly awaiting the final determination of these issues by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
It is my hope that these state bodies use all the prosecutorial powers available to determine if there is evidence of animal cruelty, medication violations — and cheating.
Like so many others, I was upset by what I read in the Times and disgusted by what I saw and what was alleged in that PETA video. Any person abusing a horse or caught with an electronic stimulation device like the one described in the video should be banned from the sport for life.
And as much as it pains me to see our industry being denigrated in the media, there is another part of me that feels that we, as an industry, deserve every bit of that criticism because the sport’s rules and our penalties have not been effective deterrents.
To be sure, we have seen some encouraging actions from racing commissions.
In 2011 in New York, the regulators handed trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. a 10-year suspension on the basis that Dutrow’s conduct at racetracks in New York State and elsewhere had been “improper, obnoxious, unbecoming, and detrimental to the best interests of racing.”
And last year, authorities from Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico collectively issued fines and suspensions to 14 licensees totaling nearly $253,000 and carrying 213 years of suspensions for those held to have had a role in the administration of illegal drugs, such as Dermorphin, to racehorses.
Those are steps in the right direction.
Owners, trainers, veterinarians — and really anyone who makes a living in the Thoroughbred industry — need to speak up any time they witness improper and dangerous treatment of horses or dishonest activity.
We certainly shouldn’t need an animal rights organization or a major publication to identify bad actors or their bad deeds.
All of us should feel a personal and professional duty to police this sport and immediately report any wrongdoing, either directly to the appropriate authority or through a national hotline, such as the one maintained by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (866-TIP-TRPB).
As recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, owners, trainers and veterinarians should share and adopt a policy that any therapeutic treatment or veterinary procedure for a horse involved in racing or race training be based upon a specific diagnosis and communicated among each party.
And, above all, there must be respect for the horse.
The Jockey Club, in addition to our industry service and marketing of the sport, has devoted immense resources over a long period of time to ensure the health of our athletes, resolve medication and safety issues in our sport and bring much needed transparency to the regulation of our horse racing.
We continue to believe that horses should compete only when they are free from the influence of medication, and we have supported the reforms that make up the national uniform medication program that was first proposed in 2011 (horseracingreform.org) and encompasses controlled therapeutic medications, prohibited substances, accredited labs and penalty guidelines for multiple medication violations.
By our count, however, only four of the 38 states with racing have fully implemented the national uniform medication program thus far (namely: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia) — and those states deserve our highest praise and appreciation. A dozen others are in various stages of “adoption” but have yet to commit to a definitive implementation date — often because of the simple fact the bureaucratic process can be painstakingly slow. In other cases special interest groups, intent on maintaining the status quo, have stalled action.
While there is no doubt that some of those shown in the March 20 video deserve condemnation for their actions and their attitudes, representatives of states that have not adopted the national uniform medication program should also shoulder blame for the current state of affairs. Their inaction feeds the negative perceptions of our sport and lends credence to the charge that we are incapable of broad-based reform.
For every small step forward — whether it’s a televised racing series, a marketing tour, or new owner and new fan initiatives — we take two giants steps backward when prospective fans, owners, television networks, sponsors, elected officials or animal rights advocates read and see media reports that convey inhumane treatment of our athletes and a lack of integrity in our sport.
Enough is enough.
The horses deserve better.
Owners and trainers deserve better.
And in a sport based on the integrity of competition, certainly fans who wager their hard earned money deserve better.
At the Round Table Conference last August, I said that The Jockey Club supported these reforms on a state-by-state basis, but the clock was ticking. I emphasized that if the state-by-state approach failed to produce the needed changes, we would look to alternative means to implement these reforms.
One alternative avenue is federal legislation.
The draft legislation proposed by some federal lawmakers involving the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is a highly attractive model. USADA has the experience, the knowledge and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.
The time to draw that proverbial line in the sand is rapidly approaching and The Jockey Club’s Board of Stewards plans to do that no later than the 62nd annual Round Table Conference on August 10, 2014.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will carefully assess the progress and the status of the national medication reform campaign.
If the major racing states have not implemented these reforms, The Jockey Club will reach out to federal lawmakers who have previously proposed federal legislation for our industry and to other supporters of this approach. We will aggressively seek rapid implementation, including steps leading toward the elimination of all race-day medications.
With the safety of our horses, the integrity of competition and the general perception of the sport all at risk, we cannot afford to wait any longer.
Enough is enough.