As the Association of Racing Commissioners Annual Conference on Equine Welfare and Racing Integrity wrapped up April 20 in Charleston, S.C., Jeff Colliton officially took over as chairman of the group that creates model rules regulators throughout the country are encouraged to adopt.
Colliton, chairman of the Washington Horse Racing Commission, moves into the chairman role as Louisiana’s Judy Wager wrapped up her one-year tenure. ARCI members also selected their 2018 chairman in Maryland Racing Commission executive director Mike Hopkins, who moves from ARCI treasurer to chair-elect. Also, Dr. Corinne Sweeney of the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, was elected the new treasurer.
Elected to the board were: Sweeney; Robert Lopez, Washington Horse Racing Commission; John F. Wayne, Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission; Tom Sage, Nebraska State Racing Commission; David Lermond, Virginia Racing Commission; Dr. David Kangaloo, Trinidad & Tobago Racing Authority;
Edward C. Menton, Mobile County Racing Commission; Charles A. Gardiner III, Louisiana State Racing Commission; Marc A. Guilfoil, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission; Larry Eliason, South Dakota Commission on Gaming; Steve Suttie; Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency; Dan Hartman, Colorado Racing Commission; Frank Zanzuccki, New Jersey Racing Commission; Rob Williams, New York State Gaming Commission, and Rick Baedeker, California Horse Racing Board.
Colliton, a Vietnam veteran who last year was inducted into the U.S. Army ROTC National Hall of Fame for Distinguished Civilian Service, retired from the military as a full colonel after serving 26 years as a helicopter pilot and active-duty officer. Having attended Gonzaga University (class of 1962) on a baseball scholarship, Colliton recently fulfilled a “bucket-list” item by traveling with Susan, his wife of 50 years, to see their beloved Zags in the NCAA basketball title game, only to get nipped in the final strides by North Carolina after a protracted stretch duel.
Part of Colliton’s college scholarship requirement was to have a part-time job. You could say his regulatory career in racing began then at the old Playfair Race Course, when he collected urine from horses during post-race testing until getting a job with the photo-finish operator. But Colliton’s racetrack experience began as a tyke, when an aunt and uncle would take him to the races at Playfair, Yakima Meadows, and sometimes Longacres near Seattle.
Later, he and his wife, Susan, would partner in owning horses with Colliton’s dad. He has been a pizza-tavern owner, a certified mediator, and was on the city council for one term “and the people of Spokane decided I needed another profession,” Colliton said with a laugh. Two years later, however, he was appointed to the Washington Horse Racing Commission, where he has served almost a decade.
Of being ARCI chair, Colliton said, “My first indication, whenever I take over a chairman of something, is not to walk in and change things. In the military, I always told the people who work for me and the people I worked for, ‘Press the listen button rather than the talk button.’”
The military influence has permeated his subsequent professional life.
“I think it’s a bit of the organization and structure that you learn from being a young lieutenant going through processes, and you learn from those who don’t, in my opinion, do things right and those who do things right,” he said. “You learn to treat your subordinates with the respect they are due. You learn to let the staff do their work and step in when you think they might need a little advice.”
Colliton thanked the membership for his selection and congratulated Wagner on her productive term. He also congratulated the compact ARCI staff, headed by president Ed Martin, on the conference.
“There have been a lot of remarks about the different panels and how well-organized and meaningful they were,” he said. “It’s a function of your staff, and I look forward to working with you.”
Besides being named chairman-elect, Hopkins received the Len Foote Award honoring exemplary service and contribution to racing integrity by a commission executive director as chosen by his or her peers. The award is named in honor of the late Len Foote, longtime executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, and is considered the highest distinction for racing officials in North America and the Caribbean.
Hopkins grew up on his family’s farm, helping care for six stallions and more than 100 broodmares. At age 12, he was working the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales at Saratoga for Maryland’s famed Windfields Farm. His first racetrack job came in 1980 at Pimlico Race Course, taking tickets from fans entering the infield tunnel on Preakness day. Hopkins, who spent 12 years as a steward and remains an accredited official, became deputy director of the Maryland Racing Commission in 1984 and executive director in 2002.
Hopkins said he benefited from great mentors, including “Mr. Preakness” Chick Lang, Bowie general manager Al Karwacki, Bowie board member Joe McLoone and Laurel general manager Ken Shertle. “Just a multitude of people,” he said. “Even growing up, there was Joe Hickey, the writer who worked for Windfields when I worked for them.”
The Association of Racing Commissioners International also honored the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium with its William May Award. The William May Award recognizes an individual or entity that has had a profound positive impact on professional racing. It is named for the late William May, who in the 1970s was one of the most powerful chairmen in the history of the Kentucky racing commission.
The industry's RMTC strives to develop and promote uniform rules, policies, and testing standards at the national level, along with coordinating research and educational programs that seek to ensure the integrity of the sport and the health and welfare of racehorses and participants, while also protecting the racing public’s interests.
“Without their contributions, I’m not sure many of us would have been as successful as we’ve been in the areas of drug testing, medication and medication uniformity, funding of research, development of lab standards, model RFP for bidding for lab services,” said ARCI president Ed Martin. “Running that organization is, frankly, kind of a thankless job. But the effort made is enormous. The executive committee thought that if RMTC was not here, how much harder all of our jobs would be.”
Said RMTC executive director Dionne Benson: “If we were to bring everybody up on this stage who contributed—members of our scientific-advisory committee, our board, those who serve on committees—there would be very few people left in the audience. Combine that with the trust put into RMTC and our recommendations by the regulators, we wouldn’t be an organization without those groups.
“This is a great reflection of the collaboration among all the industry groups that RMTC represents. We are very honored to accept this award on behalf of all the people who work so hard for RMTC.”