The Association of Racing Commissioners International wrapped up its annual meeting April 14 with a strong endorsement of the proposed National Racing Compact. Regulators, however, discussed many other issues during the three-day event in Lexington.
As is commonplace during public industry meetings, the word "dysfunction" was used at least once in describing the horse racing industry. Here's a rundown of some topics addressed and comments made by attendees.
The addition of wagering security protocol to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance code of standards is welcomed by many, including Horseplayers Association of North America member Mike Maloney.
Maloney, a big bettor based in Lexington, said the protocol is a good step, but he encouraged regulators to incorporate it into state regulations and not rely on racetracks to pursue accreditation.
“You as regulators cannot rely on the industry to self-regulate,” Maloney said. “Some good work has been done, but (racetracks) don’t have a good track record. Please don’t rely on them to protect bettors. In the end, it’s your responsibility.”
Independent monitoring of wagering
Programs that monitor wagering patterns in “near real time” have had stops and starts over the past few years, including in New York. Lonny Powell, who now heads the Arizona Department of Racing but as a consultant did some work with monitoring services, said key questions remain as to regulation and funding.
“If regulators aren’t truly driving the machine, you have two entities (racetracks and tote companies) that don’t want regulators to know what mistakes they’re making. Ideally, regulators need to be the ones requiring the system and the funding of the system.”
Alan Ahac, president of ESI Integrity, which monitors wagering for the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Association and Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, said most tote- and wagering-related problems are the result of “simple human error.” How the problems are fixed can be the more serious issue, he said.
“Oftentimes, the biggest problem can be the procedure for remedying discrepancies,” Ahac said.
Racing dates and slots
Indiana Horse Racing Commission executive director Joe Gorajec said he’s surprised states haven’t taken a stand on racing dates, particularly reducing them to improve quality. Indiana, where tracks have slot machines, has a minimum and maximum number of dates allowed by statute.
“(When the slots legislation was prepared), we looked at West Virginia and said, ‘That’s going to be a state we’re not going to go out of our way to emulate,’ ” Gorajec said. “West Virginia could be a model for the country on what you could do positively with racinos. To me, cutting dates is a step forward.”
West Virginia has two Thoroughbred tracks, each of which race more than 200 days a year. A large percentage of the races are for $5,000 claimers.
“I don’t see anyone on a national level stepping up and saying, ‘That’s wrong. It’s not the right way to go,’ ” Gorajec said.
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission member and trainer John Ward Jr. said it’s past time to avoid regional overlaps in racing days and look carefully at year-round racing.
“We have a feeling in racing that we need to subsidize the parts of racing that don’t provide much profit margin,” Ward said, noting an impending horse shortage may change things anyway. “We’re going to see a critical shortage of horses in about 24 months.”
KHRC chief steward John Veitch offered his “personal views” on stewards, the individuals on the front line of protecting integrity. Veitch said the industry underutilizes its stewards.
“The stewards are your link with reality,” Veitch told state regulators. “We know the players. We know the good guys from the bad guys.”
Veitch also said racing commissions should consult stewards when they make regulations.
“Some rules are formulated by people who didn’t know what they were doing,” Veitch said. “It makes us look bad, it makes the commission look bad, and it makes the people who put them together look even worse.”
Ward agreed, suggesting any new regulator should be “handcuffed” to a trainer to learn how things work on the backstretch. He also suggested track management be handcuffed to a trainer as well to get an education.
Responsibility of racehorse owners
Racing has a “trainer responsibility” rule, and only until recently has the industry incorporated penalties for owners whose horses are found in violation of regulations. RCI president Ed Martin wondered why owners aren’t held accountable since they hire the trainers and pay the veterinarian bills.
“What level of responsibility do owners have in policing what substances are given to their horses?” Martin said. “These are legal substances being given to horses by licensed professionals. Do the owners police this?”
Equine Injury Database
Dr. Mary Scollay, KHRC equine medical director and veterinary consultant for The Jockey Club Equine Injury Database, urged all racetracks to participate in the reporting program but warned the industry that forthcoming data must be analyzed carefully and in context.
“It has got to be apples to apples or you don’t know what you’re looking at,” she said.
Scollay said many questions will be raised, including whether surface type is associated with reduced injuries, whether females suffer more injuries when they race against males, and whether there is a greater injury rate in claiming horses versus non-claiming horses.
Scollay said data must be permitted to accumulate before substantive analysis is performed. She said the industry should not “rush in over-interpreting the data” that is released.
“The same set of data can be interpreted in multiple different ways,” Scollay said. “It’s worth it to go the extra mile to get it right.”
It remains to be seen how much information on the injury database will be released during the health and welfare summit meeting in late June in Lexington.