Regulators assembled in Lexington for their annual meeting got a “respectful challenge” April 12 from James E. “Ted” Bassett III: Ensure the proposed National Racing Compact becomes reality—quickly—and adopt national accreditation standards for stewards.
Bassett, former president of Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland, set the tone for the April 12-14 Association of Racing Commissioners International gathering, which is focusing on the NRC and consistency in pari-mutuel regulation. In his address, Bassett acknowledged the “dismal” state of the industry and said regulators hold the key to reversing negative trends.
Bassett recalled speaking to RCI 19 years ago when he was Breeders’ Cup president. Host site Gulfstream Park needed approval to shift a week of racing from neighboring Calder Race Course, and getting that done was a major project.
Some things never change, much to the disappointment of Bassett and others in the industry.
“We should think broader and nationally,” Bassett said. “You need to join together to level the playing field. My challenge to you is take a long, hard look at (the National Racing Compact).
Where is the hope? The racetracks can’t do it, The Jockey Club can’t do it, the (Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association) can’t do it. The one hope, I’m saying to you, is the people charged with implementing the rules and regulations.
There are about 400 such compacts around the country. No longer can we have the status quo (in horse racing).”
Work on the NRC by core associations in racing began in earnest last year. The NRC wouldn’t serve as a national racing commission, but would make it much easier for member racing states to adopt regulations in a business that relies heavily on interstate commerce.
Bassett, who also chaired the World Racing Championship Series for almost 10 years, noted the financial difficulties—reducing racing dates to meet budgets, for example, is a “frightening statement we’re making on our product,” he said—but pushed for action. He said after 40 years of serving on various boards and committees it’s obvious the current structure won’t work.
Bassett said history shows having a racing czar or commissioner wasn’t successful, because the individuals “didn’t have the authority to implement change.” That leaves regulators, and in a roundabout way, state legislators.
Bassett went a step further, saying model rules and regulations are worthless if not enforced. He called on all states to use the Racing Officials Accreditation Program and adopt standards for stewards and judges.
“(Regulation) starts in the stewards’ stand,” Bassett said. “Who are we putting up there (in the booth)? This isn’t rocket science. This is vanilla. These are things you should be thinking about.”
Bassett said of 38 racing states, only five have fully adopted the model rule for accreditation, while another have similar standards but not the ROAP rule.
“You should be standing up, saying, ‘We want integrity for racing,’ ” Bassett told RCI members.
As for the manner in which the industry has been handled for the past 40 years, Bassett said: “If you graded us, you’d have to give us a resounding ‘F.’ ”
Bassett said the appointment of regulators is too political; in Kentucky, there have been 57 people on the racing commission over the course of four gubernatorial terms. He said that lack of tenure is a “weak link” but not an excuse for racing commissioners to take a pass on learning about the industry they are charged to regulate.
“When your term expires, ask yourself, ‘What have I done to improve the quality of racing in my state? What have I done to improve the quality of racing nationally? What have I done to merit my appointment?’ ”
The RCI meeting continues April 13 with a look at wagering security, perception of regulation from within the industry, and a Model Rules Committee meeting. Discussion will continue on the NRC as well.