Day 2 of the inaugural Equestricon convention in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. had a decidedly international flavor Aug. 15, with British broadcaster Nick Luck providing a keynote address preceding a panel called "Perspectives: International Viewpoints," which featured racing representatives from Hong Kong, Dubai, Great Britain, and the United States.
Moderator Pat Cummings, executive manager public affairs for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, said "A lot of people look down on American racing," but Equestricon panelists expressed a different point of view, beginning with Luck.
"My belief is that the U.S. is an international racing product of serious note," Luck said in his keynote. "But it lacks the confidence of a world leader."
On the panel later in the day, Adam Driver of Newmarket's Global Equine Group, said that the U.S. "breeds the best horses in the world."
The panelists also praised the amount of handicapping data available for U.S. races and the quick information provided to viewers of national broadcasts when horses are injured.
But no discussion of racing worldwide can avoid the ways in which the U.S. separates itself from the international racing community, and it didn't take long for the issues of medication and consistent regulation to be raised.
Dora Delgado, senior vice president of racing and nominations at the Breeders' Cup, said the one thing she'd like to change about racing is awareness and consistency about medication use in the U.S., noting that the organization was unable to make its event medication-free because it's not a regulatory agency and thus is bound by the rules of the states in which the event is held. The only medication allowed on race day at the Breeders' Cup is the anti-bleeding medicine Lasix, as is the case with most racing jurisdictions in the U.S.
"America is not ready to change its medication policy," she said, elaborating later that she would like to see information about how and why medication is used here more clearly and widely disseminated in order to counter the perception that medication abuse is rampant and irresponsible in American racing.
Driver, who is also a veterinarian, went further, saying that horses that bleed are a result of breeding them for speed and a variety of risk factors, none of which are genetic.
"If you want to breed fast horses, you're going to have this problem," he said. "My view is that we should help them" by permitting the "responsible, regulated use" of Lasix.
Driver also pointed out that the lack of a central administrative body in the U.S. made getting licensed as an international owner a logistical nightmare, noting that prospective owners abroad must get finger-printed by Scotland Yard and Scotland Yard only in order to apply for a U.S. ownership license.
As part of his keynote, Luck remarked that he thought that the value of the Polytrack era in the States led directly to a greater consciousness of and increased safety on all surfaces, especially dirt, a move he praised for several reasons, not the least of which is the quality of the racing on dirt.
"It's the best to watch," he said, "and leads to the best battles."
And as evidence of what he sees as a laudable approach to animal welfare in the U.S., Luck quoted Irish groom Paul Madden, who works for U.S.-based Irish trainer Brendan Walsh.
"The care of the horse here," he said, "exceeds anywhere in the world."
Equestricon concluded Tuesday afternoon with a town hall meeting and Q&A session.