The chairman of The Jockey Club said Oct. 6 a centralized regulatory body for horse racing would facilitate changes necessary to improve the integrity of the sport in the United States, but acknowledged the chances of it happening are slim to none.
Ogden "Dinny" Phipps was keynote speaker during the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities conference in Paris, France. Officials said it marked the first time the chairman of the U.S. Jockey Club was the keynote speaker at the event.
Phipps continued with the theme of this year's Jockey Club Round Table Conference, where the focus was on integrity and uniformity in equine medication and drug testing.
"At various points in time, we have heard cries and calls for a commissioner to oversee Thoroughbred racing in North America," Phipps said. "But there are few organizations today that are willing to do things 'for the greater good' or to put anything before their own interests.
"We have been down that road with a 'commissioner,' such as the model in American football or basketball, and it's a dead-end road because the commissioner of horse racing has no power. In the United States, regulatory power has been vested in 38 states. The challenge of reforming our medication policies would certainly be much easier if there were one centralized regulatory body rather than those 38 individual racing commissions."
Phipps said he was asked in France what he would do if he had total authority as commissioner. He said his age would keep him from taking such a job, but if he was younger, he would set uniform rules, ban all race-day medications, implement strict penalties for violators, and, above all, "speak with one voice on behalf of all Thoroughbred racing."
In all but a handful of U.S. jurisdictions, the only drug permitted for use on race-day is furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix. Phipps said any race-day medication "creates doubt on the part of the consumer," and that research performed on behalf of The Jockey Club supports that contention.
"I assure you that nothing is more important to The Jockey Club at this point in time," Phipps said. "Research has confirmed that our medication policies in North America are alienating current fans, prospective fans, and prospective sponsors, not to mention animal-rights activists, media, and congressional leaders.
"We have voiced our concerns and encouraged wide-ranging reform at industry gatherings, on our advocacy websites, in press releases, and in meetings with all levels of government representatives. As we announced at the Round Table Conference in August, our management team is now in the process of developing and implementing a national legislative strategy, which will include a broad coalition of supportive industry groups and individuals."
Phipps again said there has been some progress in that several states have adopted all or part of the National Uniform Medication Program.
Phipps mentioned four challenges faced by the horse industry around the world: protecting the Thoroughbred breed, ensuring integrity, responding to competition from other forms of gambling and entertainment activities, and safeguarding the welfare of horses during racing and retirement.
"Please know that The Jockey Club will continue to advocate for all of those things, and especially for medication reform in North America," Phipps told the group at the conference. "At the same time, we pledge to continue to work closely with the IFHA and our international colleagues, and we sincerely appreciate your support and assistance. The collaboration and uniformity demonstrated by the 60 member countries of the IFHA is extraordinary.
"It gives me hope that 38 states in the same country will follow that example, and that they will do so sooner rather than later."
In other business, IFHA chairman Louis Romanet said an advisory council on prohibited substances is developing a laboratory certification program to make reference labs available in all countries. The ultimate goal is to have the labs test samples taken from high-level group and graded stakes.
"The federation's commitment to a stringent anti-doping policy has been well known since the IFHA's inception," Romanet said. "The implementation of international screening limits and the publication of detection times was a key first step. The introduction of a lab certification program coupled with strong out-of-competition testing will go a long way to strengthen and secure fair competition of racing."