Rounded Off: Jockey Club Round Table Turns 50

Published in the Aug. 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
They met for the first time July 1, 1953, at the offices of The Jockey Club in New York City. The 18 men brought to the table various backgrounds in Thoroughbred racing. Their primary mission, as stated by The Jockey Club president George Widener, was to exchange viewpoints.

During the meeting, 35 questions were raised. Should the use of hormones and vitamins be allowed? What could be done to encourage hospitalization coverage for all stable employees? Do the figures for Saturday attendance during the 1953 season indicate that television is cutting into our crowds?

Those were just a few of the topics of the day, and it's no surprise some of them still surface 50 years after the inaugural Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing. That's simply a reflection of the industry.

The format of the annual meeting, now held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has been altered since the early days. Participants no longer sit around the table and exchange viewpoints. They take to a podium with prepared remarks. There is no longer a question-and-answer period.

It has become, to use Widener's words, a "Turf congress." Whereas only 18 men participated in 1953, there are now about 300 invited guests in the audience each year.

Bob Curran, vice president of corporate communications for The Jockey Club, said the Round Table's purpose is still about the same as it was in 1953. He acknowledged the change in format, but called it a "worthwhile conference."

"We still try to ensure it includes topics that are relevant and important, and we do seek input from the industry," Curran said. "The way circumstances change in this game, there are issues that need to be looked at again in a new light."

The Round Table has provided the stage for several key initiatives, including the McKinsey Report, a national strategic plan to standardize drug testing; the Bruskin Report, a study of attitudes toward Thoroughbred racing that led to the formation of Thoroughbred Racing Communications, the National Thoroughbred Association; and later, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

As times have changed, so has the Round Table; there is much more political correctness. During that first meeting in 1953, one of the early questions dealt with whether the foal registration process could be tightened. Breeder Clifford Lussky suggested no one in Kentucky would falsify such information, and steward Marshall Cassidy followed up with this:

"We're not aiming at Kentucky. You don't need rules for the good people. You make rules for the people who are liable to try and get away with something."

Irony aside and, granted, that was 1953, there's a good chance you won't hear a statement like that at this year's Round Table, or any industry meeting for that matter.

There will be subtle changes this year when the 50th anniversary of the Round Table is held Aug. 18. After several years during which the event was used for the purpose of updating the industry on the status of the NTRA, The Jockey Club has taken back the reins.

Among the issues on the agenda are horse ownership and an owner's perspective on medication in racehorses; research in equine genomics and its potential benefits; and the globalization of the pari-mutuel industry as it seeks ways to broaden interest and boost handle. The last issue will deal with television exposure, simulcasting, and public relations, all of which have been addressed separately during previous Round Table meetings.

"We'll undoubtedly concentrate from the Breeders' Cup standpoint on the steps we've taken to expand the branding and links between Breeders' Cup races and other races in the world," Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. said in advance of the 2002 meeting. "We'll also talk about using our international relationships in the sale of corporate packages."

Here is a sampling of topics and comments from previous Round Tables. Many of the issues linger today.

What can be done to make newspaper owners aware of the fact that racing is the No. 1 spectator sport in the country?
"What we need is a combined effort to spend some money to do it. Get a pro to do it." -- Breeder Howard Reineman, 1954

Should the basic rules of racing be uniform? If so, what rules should be considered as basic? What would be the best means of accomplishing the above?
"...I think a lot of places are just plain stubborn about it. They won't give in on certain things where it wouldn't affect their racing situation at all, and still help the overall majority...One rule that I think is basic and is not uniform is the stimulation rule...In one state a man is ruled off for life, in another state they might give him 60 days. I think there should be a little more thought given to it." -- John Ring, secretary of the Florida Racing Commission, 1956

Should bleeders be allowably treated on the day of the race and, if so, under what controllable standards?
"I don't believe in permissive medication the day of the race for any horse for any purpose...One of the reasons I don't like anybody to treat a horse and give an injection the day of the race is because there are some drugs on the market that can change the performance of a horse in a race and will not show in the saliva or urine." -- Dr. M.A. Gilman, examining vet for the New York Racing Association, 1963

What is the role of, and problems faced by, the equine practitioner?
"The biggest problem, I think, in racing today facing the practitioner is unsoundness...Various treatments and surgery have come a long way, but I think we have to revert to the breeder, and he is going to have to breed sounder horses...I think we have come a long way in breeding fast horses, but now we've got to breed horses that will stand up as well as go fast." -- Dr. George Badame, Ontario, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Veterinary Surgeons, 1970

What are the policy issues affecting the sale of horses at auction?
"I know I've been tempted for years to throw one line of the Lord's Prayer into the conditions of sale in some catalogue to find out if anybody will come and ask, 'What is the Lord's Prayer doing in the catalogue?' because I don't believe that most of our best customers have read the conditions of sale in the last 10 years. Their response is they haven't had to; they understand how the rules work in practice, and they have confidence in us. Well, it's a great expression of confidence, but in fact not a very intelligent way to do business." -- John Finney, president of Fasig-Tipton Co., 1980

What are some public relations opportunities for racing?
"Most of you think you're in the horse business, and I don't think you are; you're essentially in the gambling business. Because if you close all these windows, all the breeders and all the owners and the trainers will go out of business. Gambling, whether we like it or not, is the primary source." -- Ray Kerrison, New York Post columnist, 1983

How can racing face the challenges of improved drug testing, standardized rules and penalties, and more research?
"There is really nothing new about the problems confronting racing. They have been with us ad infinitum. They have been growing, and the growth has been feeding on what has been perceived as our reluctance and inability to face them head on, grapple with them, and find realistic and acceptable solutions..."
--Keeneland and Breeders' Cup president James E. "Ted" Bassett III, 1990.