By Jennie Rees
CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla.–Eric Hamelback, chief executive officer of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, is developing a concept he believes would help stewards navigate the increasingly complex world when highly sophisticated testing collides with environmental contamination and the inadvertent transfer of matter to racehorses.
Speaking Friday on the last day of programming at the National HBPA Convention at Sheraton Sand Key Resort, Hamelback shared his vision for a program he has dubbed “SARC: Stewards Advisory Review Committee.” An accredited high school football official, he likens the concept to the NFL adding replay booths to assist the referees on the field. The idea is to provide more information to make sure the right call is made, though SARC would not be making official rulings but only provide input and context to the stewards before they make a decision whether to issue a ruling, if so what it might be or to take no action.
“I see this as a proposal to establish a public and private collaboration that would function as a resource for review, interpretation and support for stewards,” he said.
Hamelback said the advisory committee could counsel on three areas: policy, practice and analysis.
“The members of the SARC would represent a cross-section of regulatory officials, equine veterinarians, equine pharmacologists and equine toxicologists who are recognized as leaders in their field,” he said. “Obviously we want to ensure our industry’s integrity, and it’s essential for all our equine testing to work properly. The critical task of determining the validity of the test result should be to those who are, and have been, working in and understanding the legal and technical issues involved.
“So by utilizing a SARC program or SARC committee as an advisory board for the stewards, the racing commission and the equine medical directors, I believe it could provide assistance based on experience and knowledge of precedent, thus aiding in making determinations for violations found in a biological sample.”
Hamelback said the objective is to emulate programs already found in human testing. “The decisions made on these findings are as critical as the decision itself,” he said.
Under the still-developing concept, the SARC members would review the findings sent to them from a requesting body seeking possible next-step procedures. Hamelback stressed that SARC would have no regulator authority.
“This is a back-up for your stewards, that if they have a question, if they have something that they find and they don’t have a precedent, this group could be a great advisory resource for them,” he said. “This is not something we have currently.
“If it comes to fruition, that would be amazing,” he said. “But ultimately I also believe that working together, not worrying about who gets credit, if it works and is better for the industry, then we’ll push forward.”
Hamelback will make a similar presentation at the Association of Racing Commissioners International meeting in early April. He said ARCI president Ed Martin is among those who have seen his proposal “and he feels it does have very good merit.” Hamelback said he hopes “in the very near future” to also present a proposal to the education committee of the Racing Officials Accreditation Program.