Round Table Call: More Horse Owners, Less Medication

As the Thoroughbred industry embarks on a national campaign to encourage more investment in racehorses, the chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association has issued a plea for uniformity in medication to help the sport in a number of areas.

The issues of racehorse ownership and use of medication were the focal points of the Aug. 18 Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Though different, they are linked by a number of factors, including economics and animal welfare.

Owner Gary Biszantz, the TOBA chairman, said the industry years ago signed on to the belief that therapeutic medication would not only help racehorses physically but also increase number of starts per horse per year and field size. Biszantz pointed to statistics that suggest that hasn't panned out; in fact, number of starts and field size are down.

Biszantz said the widespread use of therapeutics was "well-intentioned but misdirected," and he targeted some in the veterinary community.

"The permissive and injudicious use of medication may get a horse to the next race with less pain, but the long-term results are disastrous for the horse," Biszantz said.

He touched on the lucrative nature of racehorse medication -- "The dollars speak so loud," he said -- and claimed that owners and trainers rely too much on veterinarians to get a horse to its next race.

"Less is better than more," Biszantz said. "We can't just know what's right. We need to do what's right."

TOBA has been very involved in the push for uniformity in medication and drug testing. On that issue, Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force said $625,000 has been committed by industry organizations to continue the initiatives of the task force and the new Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

The organizations are TOBA, the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the New York Racing Association, The Jockey Club, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the American Quarter Horse Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

The consortium needs "bridge financing" for three years, Waterman said, while officials seek a long-term funding mechanism. The group also drafted a nine-page model medication policy, he said, that is expected to undergo revision.

There has been recent discussion of making use of anabolic steroids a prohibited practice, along with blood-doping and shock-wave therapy. Several states and racing associations have already issued restrictions on blood-doping and shock-wave therapy.

The owner-recruitment program, now called The Greatest Game instead of, will focus on the economics of racehorse ownership, national licensing, and racetrack hospitality. The program entails a national television advertising campaign that began Aug. 15, as well as development of mentors and a code of ethics for participants.

"If properly applied, we believe there are a multitude of people who can enjoy similar racing experiences," said John Oxley, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos and has 40 horses in training and 50 broodmares. "It's the greatest lifestyle on the planet."

Owner Steven Duncker, who bought his first horse in Kentucky and won his first race as an owner years ago at Fairmount Park in Illinois, said the "hot buttons" of horse ownership are contact with the animals, the fun of the game, and a sense of accomplishment. He said the new ads, which air on CNBC, the Golf Channel, and the Travel Channel, "showcase owners, something a little bit lacking in this sport."

Much of the funding for The Greatest Game comes from Keeneland, whose president, Nick Nicholson, said organizers want to find ways to get people into the game without a substantial initial investment. The Greatest Game plans to target racetracks, "where our next owners are sitting in the grandstands today," he said.

In other Round Table business:

--The NTRA announced an agreement with "At the Races," a new racing television network in Great Britain. The network will broadcast all eight Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships races Oct. 26 from Arlington Park via Sky Digital Television, and offer commingled pari-mutuel wagering on the events.

Negotiations to have bettors in Ireland and South Africa wager into the United States pool are under way, NTRA officials said.

Greg Avioli, deputy commissioner for the NTRA, said efforts continue in Washington, D.C., to enact legislation that would eliminate the 30% withholding tax on wagers made in foreign countries on U.S. races. He said billions of dollars in handle could be generated if that obstacle was eliminated.

Lord Hartington, chairman of Ascot in England, said the racecourse is anxious to find sponsors on an international level and make its brand better known outside of Great Britain. Ascot and Longchamp earlier this year formed a marketing partnership with the Breeders' Cup to help facilitate the globalization of Thoroughbred racing.

--Alan Marzelli, executive vice president of The Jockey Club, said Equibase performed a field test at Keeneland in July that could lead to automation of the collection of racing data, timing, and other things related to compiling past performances. He said the technology would open up new avenues for distribution of the product.

"We're in the early stages of testing the technology, but we think we're close to finding an answer," Marzelli said. "This is not a fantasy."