Panel: Ethics Code for Horse Sales Needs Teeth

A code of ethics for the bloodstock industry must be firm and enforceable, officials said during a Dec. 9 panel discussion at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing in Tucson. Otherwise, problems recognized by the industry will go uncorrected, they said.

The Sales Reform Task Force, formed this summer to tackle the issue, plans to release its first document the week of Dec. 13. Rollin Baugh, a prominent bloodstock agent, said disclosure would be a big part of the task force document, as well dual agency and information on the health history of horses.

"The key word in all of this is the word disclosure," Baugh said during the panel discussion. "Anything is OK in business as long as all the parties that need to know know everything that needs to be known."

Baugh said the industry must get past the notion that horse-trading -- and the potential rip-offs associated with it -- is romantic and an accepted part of the process. "We can't afford to do that," he said. "A lot of this is trading between ourselves...It can't be business as usual for a whole lot longer."

"Hopefully there will be teeth in this whole thing," said Joe Harper, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president who served as panel moderator. "You have to have teeth when you're talking about a code of ethics."

John Maxse, director of public relations for the Jockey Club of the United Kingdom, said jurisdiction is a complication for a code of ethics enacted in Great Britain. Owners and trainers, he said, register with regulators, but breeders, consignors, and agents don't register with regulators. Because of that, enforcement is a challenge, he said.

Murray Brown of Hanover Shoe Farm, a Standardbred nursery, said the harness industry is well behind the Thoroughbred industry in terms of a code of practice for horse sales. He said there aren't repositories, and in fact little interest in X-rays from buyers.

"Farms now X-ray all the horses and make them available, but even then, prospective owners don't look at them," Brown said. "At Hanover, we have about 300 yearlings each year, and I'd say less than half a dozen (are the subject of) requests for X-rays."

Health records of horses, he said, are made available to customers. Brown also said the Standardbred industry could very well follow the Thoroughbred industry after the Sales Reform Task Force releases its recommendations.

Harper said the buyer bears some responsibility in the process. "You see it over and over," he said. "People who are successful in other businesses come in with 'victim' written across their foreheads."

Baugh agreed there are other parts of the equation: common sense and good business sense. "The important part is none of it works unless the buyer takes it upon himself to apply good business practices," he said. "It always amazes me how few people do this."

Maxse said the bloodstock industry traditionally hasn't treated newcomers with respect. He called for "education, education, education" -- and said people should be encouraged to ask questions.