Integrity Push Continues Despite Obstacles

Progress is often slowed by legal issues and the rule-making process.

Racing jurisdictions and racetracks are making some headway on tightening the screws on integrity in the sport, though one official Dec. 6 described it as a "minefield" due to legal issues and court fights.

Members of a panel at the University of Arizona Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming discussed dealing with violators in horse racing and reported progress, particularly in New Mexico. But it remains a struggle that requires constant commitment, officials said.

"This really a minefield going forward," said Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming Inc., in regard to racetracks being able to take action against offenders. "Racetracks, horsemen, and fans want and demand action on these cases. But the simple answer is it's not really so simple."

McErlean discussed several cases in which PNGI tracks have ejected licensees only to have the action overturned in court. In West Virginia, for instance, the racing commission now has the right to hear appeals on such cases.

"This will keep plenty of lawyers employed," McErlean said. "We will adjust and we will regroup, but we will not back down."

Vince Mares, agency director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, acknowledged New Mexico has been a "rogue" state when it comes to regulation of racing. He noted racing in the state was under the microscope after a series of stories that appeared this year in the New York Times.

Mares, who retired from law enforcement in 2008, said he was directed by the governor to restore integrity to horse racing. He first identified the challenges, namely inadequate funding for drug testing and investigations, and slow turnaround of drug test results from laboratories.

"We had labs taking six to eight weeks, maybe up to three months, to (confirm split samples)," Mares said. "That's unacceptable. You don't want the perception the racing commission is doing nothing."

Mares said New Mexico began working with the Association of Racing Commissioners International to improve regulations and to get help from outside the state. The racing commission also has taken what action it can pending changes in New Mexico law.

For instance, for positives for Class A and B drugs, Mares no longer grants stays of suspensions.

"We're not going to allow them to continue to race," Mares said. "We're not going to accept cheaters in New Mexico."

PNGI owns Zia Park in New Mexico. McErlean said six trainers and two jockeys have been barred from the track for various offenses.

Rick Goodell, assistant general counsel for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said barriers to enforcement include delays before penalties begin and a lack of understanding of racing by the courts.

"Judges can be unfamiliar with the damage this causes to racing," Goodell said. "The courts generally have little interest in the future of racing. It's a battle that has to be fought on an ongoing basis."

Goodell said the NYSRWB is working on regulations to address "paper" trainers, also known as "beards," who are listed as trainers of record though the horses are trained by others. One way is to go after owners who allow the practice to continue.

"We've tried to discourage owners from purposely hiring trainers with a history," Goodell said. "We're proposing a new rule that would sanction owners."