Officials who took part in a panel discussion on integrity in the pari-mutuel industry Thursday at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing indicated various factions are coming together on the issue. They went so far as to say if the industry can't make progress, it may be time to hang it up.
"The margin of error is smaller than it has ever been," said Hugh Mitchell, senior vice president of racing for the Ontario Jockey Club. "If you don't address integrity problems ... you'll have nothing left."
Mitchell spoke from the racetrack perspective. He said the OJC, which operates Thoroughbred and Standardbred meets, will have an enhanced drug-testing program in place Jan. 1, 2001. But he said the problems aren't limited to the backstretch.
"I believe there are as many integrity problems in the boardrooms of our industry as there are on the backstretch."
One common theme expressed by the panelists was that perception is as dangerous as reality.
"The owners have been silent for too long," said Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. "Now, the primary investors in the sport have decided to lead by example."
Industry organizations met Wednesday to discuss integrity issues and formulate a strategy. Some, such as TOBA and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, already have issued recommendations in documents disseminated to industry officials.
Jim Gallagher, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's task force on drug testing and integrity, said 29 racing commissions and 18 tracks have participated thus far in the "super testing" program, by which blind samples are tested to identify drugs and to assist in improving testing methods.
"These issues are no longer perception," Gallagher said. "They're reality."
He also said the process isn't black and white. For example, testing methods, withdrawal times, and threshold levels vary by jurisdiction. That means a positive in one state may not be a positive in another state.
"You have to put an awful lot of caveats behind what 'illegal' means," Gallagher said.