Stark Reminder
Photo:
NTRA Commissioner
D.G. Van Clief Jr.
By D.G. Van Clief Jr.
I have been asked several times over the last two weeks for my reaction to the headlines and stories that appeared in the New York Daily News and New York Post Jan. 14. The federal indictments detailed in the coverage include charges of money laundering through United States pari-mutuel pools and a betting coup involving a horse allegedly treated with performance-enhancing substances ("milkshakes") for which New York authorities were not testing.

My reaction?

Disappointment, especially for the thousands of hard-working people in this industry whose ethics are beyond reproach and who go about their daily business in exemplary manner. Disgust, both at the nature of the charges and that they reinforce negative perceptions about our game. And, ultimately, determination to make sure that this latest incident does not pass without renewed, expedited focus by all of us on what we must do to significantly increase both the security of our betting pools and our backstretches.

The charges outlined in the federal indictments in New York point out the immediate need to improve our wagering systems and the pre- and post-race security of our horses. They are a stark reminder that, as an industry, we must accelerate the pace of the steps we have taken over the last few years to upgrade these areas.

On the wagering side, in September of last year the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Wagering Systems Task Force issued its recommendations. Among these were stricter disclosure policies for under-regulated secondary pari-mutuel organizations (SPMOs). These are often offshore entities. The task force suggested they be held to standards similar to licensed, regulated U.S. pari-mutuel operations. The NTRA board endorsed that policy.

In the days since the federal indictments, several U.S. tracks and horsemen have taken steps to ensure that these outlets comply, and several SPMOs have indicated their willingness to disclose appropriate information in accordance with wagering security guidelines. Applying these guidelines will allow U.S. host tracks to monitor more closely who is betting and how on a daily basis--critical information in the effort to detect suspicious wagering patterns.

The board also approved formation of an Office of Wagering Security to create the model for an efficient, effective cyber security function and to oversee its implementation. Concurrently, The Jockey Club, Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., and the New York Racing Association are leading a process to upgrade the industry's wagering technology, which in turn will allow the implementation of the more sophisticated security system.

In the area of medication testing, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has issued model rules and policies that will level the playing field from state-to-state. These steps will enhance understanding and enforcement of the rules. It is crucial that state racing commissions who have not yet done so adopt these rules and policies as soon as possible. The tracks and horsemen of Southern California have implemented an effective program to detect the administration of alkalinizing agents (used in milkshaking). Gulfstream Park and NYRA are following suit and others must, too, sooner rather than later.

Finally, horsemen on backstretches across the country must do what they can to eliminate the perception that there are those who are beating the system. While it may not be practical on a daily basis to use the policies in place at the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships (e.g., 24-hour security on each starter), horsemen can help by policing themselves and reporting suspicious behavior.

While the headlines were bleak, on balance, Thoroughbred racing has received positive media coverage over the last few years.

We've increased the number of brands that will sponsor our biggest events. Sales of Thoroughbreds at public auction have been robust. We've made progress on the legislative front, increasing the industry's influence in the political arena. Account wagering, the industry's fastest growth area, is just hitting its stride. All this is at risk if we cannot prove to regulators, government, and our own customers that we can keep our own house.

D.G. VAN CLIEF JR. is commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

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