After 33 years at Keeneland, most of them at the helm of the Thoroughbred industry institution, James E. "Ted" Bassett III probably has sat through more industry meetings, served on more committees and subcommittees, and helped steer more new organizations than anyone else in racing. He has witnessed success and failure, and understands what can spell the difference between the two.
When he announced his decision to retire as Keeneland's chairman, Bassett willingly answered questions from The Blood-Horse both about his career and the industry--its past, present, and future--that he has helped guide.
It is interesting that he said racing's greatest challenge is to "create unity." Calls for unity certainly have been made before, and often. It is such a vital ingredient to success, however, that it bears repeating until all of the disparate parties "get it." As Bassett said in the interview (page 6228): "The common interests that bind us together are stronger than the differences that tend to divide us."
That statement should be read as an invocation at the beginning of every industry meeting.
The challenge involving equine medication, drug testing, and enforcement is an issue that could be addressed more easily if participants in the process repeated the mantra of unity.
There are several common interests that bind everyone with an interest in medication. Doing what is right for the horse. Doing what is best for the breed. Protecting the wagering public. Establishing sensible rules and testing thresholds that catch the cheaters but do not unfairly punish cases of environmental contamination.
The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has taken a step in the right direction with its proposal for a national drug testing and therapeutic medication policy. As HBPA officials said in an Oct. 18 press conference, it's a good "starting point."
Yet to sound off on medication guidelines is the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which hopes to release its own proposal later this year. Also looking closely at medication issues is the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. That group is conducting a medication survey of its members and racetrack veterinarians. The American Association of Equine Practitioners, which last year announced a new policy on therapeutic medication, is conducting a medication summit this December during the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry Program's Symposium on Racing. A separate organization, the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, has issued a statement offering its own medication proposal separate from that of the AAEP.
So what we might have by year's end are as many as a half-dozen separate proposals for medication and drug-testing guidelines, all well-intentioned, but none likely to move us any further along than we presently are. What must happen in the name of progress is for all of these groups to work toward a policy that everyone can accept. There has been far too much talking on the subject, and not enough listening or compromising.
Proponents of detention barns may have to yield to the horsemen who oppose them. Veterinarians and trainers may have to accept the idea that only a state-approved veterinarian can give a horse a race-day shot of Salix (formerly known as Lasix), and that no private practitioners are allowed in a horse's stall within four hours of a race. Horse owners may have to absorb some of the cost--burdensome as that sounds--to pay for increased security and improved testing methods.
The people who want to fix racing's medication problems must get back to the basics, and find those common interests that Ted Bassett talks about. A solution may be much easier to find.