Major League

By Stan Bowker

When I read Ray Paulick’s recent commentary about the inconsistency among stewards on judging racing interference ("Consistently Inconsistent," The Blood-Horse of Feb. 17, page 1053), I could certainly share in his frustration.

For the past year, I have served as chairman of the Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP) and I have been campaigning for uniformity in the rules and procedures involved in how stewards post inquiries, review races, handle foul claims, and most importantly, decide disqualifications.

With 38 pari-mutuel horse racing states and 38 sets of rules, achieving uniformity in anything, especially disqualifications for interference, is a constant challenge.

After several months of meetings and discussions initiated by The Jockey Club, representatives from 15 prominent horse racing industry organizations met at the 2005 Association of Racing Commissioners International convention and officially formed ROAP. The primary goal was to ensure the integrity of horse racing by increasing the professionalism of stewards, judges, and other racing officials. While all major league sports have strict programs to train and review umpires, referees, and judges, the pari-mutuel horse racing industry had not made the same commitment to excellence through education and experience.

In 1989, the Universities of Arizona and Louisville started separate accreditation schools for racing officials. While both schools have done a commendable job in accrediting more than 500 racing officials in the last 17 years, the support of the horse racing industry to provide internships, job placement, regular evaluation, and sufficient continuing education has lacked coordination and commitment. A recent ROAP survey showed that only two-thirds of currently working stewards are accredited.

The organizing ROAP board of directors established the following 12-point plan: enhance accreditation schools and continuing education workshops; develop a uniform curriculum and examination process; publish Racing Officials Resource Guidebook; provide a Web site, including a directory of accredited racing officials; create a racing incidents video library; establish periodic race video analysis for accredited stewards; review state rules for uniformity on riding infractions; increase recognition of accredited racing officials; promote adoption of rules requiring accreditation of stewards and judge; educate commissions on the duties and responsibilities of racing officials; produce Duties and Responsibilities of Racing Officials video; and develop recruitment campaign with internships, mentoring, and job placement.

Paulick’s editorial is an excellent example of why the industry needs ROAP, and an even better example of the lack of industry support. Determining the cause and degree of interference in the running of a race is a judgment call just like balls and strikes. Because there is a lot of gray area between the black and white calls, consistency takes proper training, experience, and constant review.

To accomplish this goal, ROAP is asking racetracks to provide a videotape or DVD of interesting interference and disqualification incidents at the end of each race meet.

In addition, we're asking the racing commissions to require that all stewards be accredited at the Arizona and Louisville schools and participate in bi-annual continuing education, especially race video analysis. And, since most stewards are accredited, we would like to see tracks identify those that are accredited in the their track programs.

While we have accomplished, or are in the process of accomplishing, most of our goals, recognition and financial support of ROAP has been disappointing. The Jockey Club, the USTA, the AQHA, RCI, and the TRA have all been consistent supporters, with funding and leadership. But participation from racetracks and horsemen—which have the most to gain—has been limited to Keeneland, Oak Tree, Meadowlands, and Monmouth Park. Despite strong support from RCI, many racing commissions have yet to come on board.

As an industry, we complain about the media and the public not recognizing horse racing as a major league sport. We could take one step toward changing that perception by embracing and supporting the ROAP efforts.

Stan Bowker is the executive secretary of the Virginia Racing Commission and chairman of ROAP.