The president of horse racing's umbrella regulatory group said April 8 the sport's tendency for self-flagellation and participants' refusal to take responsibility for their actions–or lack of action–is a major threat to the industry's future.
Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, gave the keynote address on the second day of the organization's three-day conference in Lexington. He filled in for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who was scheduled to speak but traveled to Texas for the NCAA basketball final April 7 and was unavailable.
Martin, who raised his voice on several occasions for emphasis, again offered statistics that indicate horse racing compares favorably with other major sports in terms of the percentage of clean drug tests even though it tests far more samples each year. He also touched on the investigations that resulted after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made allegations of horse abuse and mistreatment in the barn of Steve Asmussen based upon secretly-taken video.
"We stand here today as regulators trying to police a sport, portions of which seem mired in a culture of negativity," Martin said. "They never talk about what's right with this sport. If you consistently talk about the negative, you will chase people away from a wonderful sport.
"If we're not going to accentuate the positive, we might as well all pack up and go home now."
Martin said there are roughly 96,000 races run each year in the United States versus 2,475 Major League Baseball games, 1,275 National Basketball Association games, 1,275 National Hockey League games, and 275 National Football League games. He said many people know of the baseball players accused of using steroids, but few can remember the name of the racehorse trainer that received the first positive for the Class 1 drug Dermorphin in the Southwest last year.
"Anybody remember the name of the guy? I can't," Martin said. "But (the discovery) was the result of a state racing commission doing its job."
Martin said horse racing compares favorably with other sports, including the Olympics, in that about 99.6% of test results come back clean for illegal drugs or therapeutic medication overages. He said the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which under federal legislation would oversee equine medication testing for racing, performs about 8,200 tests a year versus 320,000 in racing.
"With all due respect to USADA, it has no experience with horses," Martin said. "Why does horse racing get a bum rap when its testing is as effective as (USADA's) testing? They also allow exemptions for performance-enhancing drugs. We don't allow performance-enhancing substances in our horses (on race day)–you can make an argument for Lasix as being performance-enhancing, but we disclose its use (for each horse). USADA doesn't tell you who uses what drug in what competition.
"If we adopted the program USADA has implemented, it would increase drug use in horse racing."
Martin said he was as "disgusted as anyone else" watching the nine-minute video released by PETA in March, but industy reaction in the aftermath was revealing.
"The thing that got me the most was the fact you had a prominent owner say, 'I didn't know what was going on with my horse.' Owners get vet bills, and trainers are the agents of owners. This industry needs to make owners more accountable for the people who work for them."
Martin was referring to Zayat Stables, which removed its horses from the care of Asmussen a few days after the video was released. Ahmed Zayat has said he wasn't aware of the condition of his horse, Nehro, who later died from complications related to colic.
"I'm an advocate for (the National Uniform Medication Program), but I'm not sure even if we had all those rules on the books, we would have seen anything different (in the PETA video). You can't legislate morality. And if owners don't know what they should know, maybe that's where the system of checks and balances has failed us.
"It's easy to detach yourself from the (regulatory) front line. It's easy to sit in judgment and say, 'You're not doing the job.' Let's stop talking down the sport. There are too many people whose livelihoods depend on it."
Martin also called for a review of regulations governing veterinary practices and a funding commitment to ensure horse racing has an adequate network of investigators to monitor activities and weed out violators.