Integrity--or Lack Thereof--Called Most Pressing Issue

Representatives of the horse industry claim integrity issues have never been more important, and the results of soon-to-be-released research could indicate where the betting public stands on the matter.

Representatives of the horse industry claim integrity issues have never been more important, and the results of soon-to-be-released research could indicate where the betting public stands on the matter.

During the Aug. 19 Jockey Club Round Table Conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps offered a preview of the research authorized by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. He said a survey revealed that of 1,250 racing fans, one-third said Thoroughbred racing has “serious integrity issues,” with alleged use of illegal medication first and foremost.

After the conference, NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said the NTRA would report on the findings within the next few weeks, perhaps through a media briefing. Waldrop said the survey involved “core fans” who attend the races at least once a week and who wager at least $100 per visit.

Waldrop said the study fits with a mission that includes marketing and legislative advocacy, both of which rely heavily on integrity.

“You can’t advocate if you’re perceived to be, or in fact are, corrupt,” Waldrop said. “From the NTRA’s perspective, integrity has been a core issue for us.”

Phipps over the years has used the Round Table podium to convey the message that the racing industry must take steps to stop cheating, be it real or perceived. He again did so Aug. 19, but his comments were more targeted and forceful.

He said integrity issues cause “grave concern” to any business, especially those involved with spectator sports like horse racing.

“To be quite candid, the stewards of The Jockey Club think it’s a disgrace that numerous horses in our sport’s most prominent and highly visible races are routinely trained by people who have repeated medication violations,” Phipps said.

“At the present time, there are no penalties for owners of horses that test positive for a banned substance,” he said. “In the past, we believed that was correct. But if owners are picking trainers who are routinely fined or suspended for medication infractions, we should reconsider an owner-responsibility rule.”

Phipps said “there is nothing more important” to the Jockey Club stewards than the medication issue. He said the organization is committed to providing “significant funding” to tackle the matter, but all industry stakeholders must cooperate.

Horsemen's representatives in attendance at the Round Table acknowledged the perception of cheating in the industry but questioned whether it's rampant.

On a related subject, Phipps said The Jockey Club believes anabolic steroids should be banned in racehorses and also horses at yearling and 2-year-old auctions. The industry already is taking steps to regulate steroids on race day.

The Equine Drug Research Institute, created in 2005, is developing tests to detect steroids and other designer drugs believed to be used in horses. Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said the institute, formed with about $3 million in horse industry funding, will need ongoing financial resources to continue research.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium could use more financial support, executive director Dr. Scot Waterman said during the Round Table. Waterman said the RMTC has taken hits from the industry because of the somewhat methodical pace of its work, but he said there are political, philosophical, and financial restraints.

Waterman noted that about $30 million a year is spent on post-race equine drug testing, a figure that dwarfs other sports. However, the money is split among 38 jurisdictions and 18 laboratories.

Waterman suggested regionalized, consolidated labs and increased funding from state governments. He also called for a coordinated, beefed-up approach to security at racetracks and training centers.

“After six years (of the RMTC being in operation), we believe the industry wants a world-class system, so it’s time to ask state regulators to help solve the problems, as well as all industry participants,” Waterman said.

When the Equine Drug Research Institute, based in Los Angeles, was launched, there were questions over whether it would work with the RMTC or compete with it for industry funds. After the Round Table, Jockey Club executive director Dan Fick said there are efforts to bring the two together.

“The (institute) has filled a gap we couldn’t fill two years ago,” said Fick, also chief executive officer of the RMTC. “Now we need to work more closely together. Why not be a unified force and seek funding for both? There already have been a couple of meetings between (the institute) and the RMTC.”

The institute is headed by Dr. Don Catlin, known for his work with the Olympics and developing tests for designer drugs.