The prize money Team Valor International had hoped to give away as part of a new writing contest promoting bold, hard-hitting journalism in horse racing has instead been donated to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
The inaugural Stanley Bergstein Writing Award was given to a team of New York Times writers that examined the role medications have played in racetrack injuries and the responsibility that racetrack veterinarians have in administering those drugs.
Team Valor International’s president Barry Irwin created the award last year and attached a $25,000 prize to motivate Turf writers to be bold in their coverage of horse racing. Bergstein was a Daily Racing Form columnist and longtime executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America, who died Nov. 2, 2011, at age 87.
"Stan wrote when he had something to say and when he had something to say it was worth listening to," said Irwin. "When he died, I wanted to fill the void he left. I decided to create a vehicle to keep the spirit of his writing alive. I wanted to stimulate writers to stretch, rather than stay in their comfort zones."
Because the New York Times editorial policy prevented writers Joe Drape, Walt Bogdanich, and Rebecca Ruiz from accepting the prize, Team Valor donated the money to the RMTC, a non-profit organization with both scientific and educational purposes. It is governed by a board of directors consisting of 25 racing industry stakeholder groups.
Dionne Benson, executive director of the RMTC, accepted the donation at an award luncheon Dec. 4 at the Thoroughbred Club in Lexington.
"This money will go a long way toward work that continues the spirit of the award," she said, noting that Bergstein was a member of the RMTC board and was instrumental in getting the U.S. harness tracks involved in the RMTC.
"I was not a part of the organization at the time, but I have heard how much he pushed for regulations and integrity in racing," Benson said.
The donation, Benson added, is well-timed as the RMTC and the racing industry is dealing with a lot of drug-related issues. The RMTC executive committee just approved a set of rules on corticosteroids during a recent meeting in Anaheim, Calif.
"I think it is interesting that corticosteroids have been around for a so long and now just now getting around to deal with them," Benson said. "I think you will see that the goal with our regulations is to cause an overall shift in the way we do business. We are going to limit corticosteroids in ways and eliminate certain uses in our recommendations to the RCI, which they will get this week." The RCI is the Association of Racing Commissioners International that drafts model rules for state regulatory bodies.
Another issue at the forefront is laboratory accreditation.
"The drug testing is only as good as the lab that is doing the testing,"Benson said. The RMTC is now handling the accreditation of three labs.
The New York Times article that won the Stanley Bergstein award, titled "At the Track, Racing Economics Collide with Veterinarians’ Oath" was published on Sept. 21.