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Op/Ed: Eric Hamelback


By Eric Hamelback

Everyone wants what is best for horse racing and especially for the Thoroughbred racehorses that make our industry possible. That is why many of us are stunned by The Jockey Club leadership’s latest attempt to use that organization’s considerable wealth and influence to push a piece of federal legislation, not supported by the vast majority in racing, to address a problem that many would agree is nonexistent. Allowing for our equine medication control, testing and sanctions to be placed in the hands of a private entity possessing no experience with the complexities of our sport was deemed by many as “ridiculous as it can get.” Well, think again… It is about to get even more absurd.

The latest ploy, or possibly last-ditch effort, to resurrect a bill that the online service has given only a 4-percent chance of passing, is The Jockey Club’s announcement of a “union” with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This is in conjunction with the formation of the HSUS National Horse Racing Advisory Council, whose announced council members do not include a practicing veterinarian, a racing-committee representative from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a professional trainer, a racetrack operator, nary a racing official nor anyone who works in the trenches with racehorses at racetracks on a day-to-day basis.

This council will now hear from HSUS CEO, Wayne Pacelle, who stated in a recent blog, “The risk (of horse racing) is compounded when the horses are doped up, raced too young, and bred for champagne-glass legs–valuing speed rather than durability– all of which make them more susceptible to breakdowns on the track.”  Yet at the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, sponsored by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, we heard research that dispels such a view. Dr. Tim Parkin, who oversees the Equine Injury Database set up by The Jockey Club, clearly stated for the record, “This perception that you shouldn’t be racing 2-year-olds, I have to say again and again, it’s a total misperception. The earlier you start racing a horse the better for their long-term career in terms of their bone health.”  Why then should we trust this council to have input in our industry when the HSUS obviously has a separate agenda?

The Jockey Club does include many who devote their resources into making improvements to our sport, and we applaud their non-politicized initiatives and efforts. But let’s be clear: The Jockey Club’s revenue stream, through its for-profit companies, exists because of those who work in, enjoy and rely on horse racing. So why not involve the entire industry in efforts that address the true challenges facing the entire industry?

Here are three ideas alone that we feel would have positive dialogue and certain immediate industry support:
> Set up and fund programs that can implement blood samples being taken before euthanizing horses that sustain catastrophic injuries, and/or institute a mandatory necropsy program. This practice alone could provide answers to what many of us consider unsubstantiated statements such as our athletes are “doped up.”
> Set up a grant system so state racing commissions can afford the best lab testing available.
> Set up stipends for our current laboratories to ensure they have the most up-to-date equipment.

There can be honest and helpful dialogue as to the real problems and the wisest solutions for horse racing and breeding industries when we are all treated equally at the discussion table. However, this latest effort in creating a partnership with the HSUS leaves me stunned and disheartened. Adding the vast HSUS lobbying machine to The Jockey Club money and influence to ramrod support for the fatally-flawed Thoroughbred Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2015 is an act of desperation, not to mention destructive and creating a dangerous, unnecessary divide in our industry.

Seemingly hundreds of thousands of dollars of our industry’s money have been spent on this campaign by The Jockey Club, only to now have it partner with an organization that has proclaimed it wants to cease all “exploitation” of animals.

HSUS is not the same as the state and local humane societies that run shelters, work toward adoption of small animals and provide much-needed neutering clinics. HSUS is a powerful and well-funded lobbying group deeply entrenched in Washington D.C. However, it has few friends in the current Congress and is seen as an extreme impediment by most in the agriculture sector. Is this flawed bill really worth more than the real solutions that could be derived from full industry participation?

Since the coalition has brought in the HSUS as a full-fledged political ally, does that mean those organizations which are members of The Jockey Club-controlled Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity champion the same efforts and beliefs of the Humane Society of the United States?  All in an effort to give life support to stalled exertions to foist through proposed legislation that is not just a very bad idea; it’s a very bad idea that has minimal chance of passing. But did those coalition partners join with unrestricted acceptance?  Did TOBA, the KTA/KTOB, the CBA or even HANA sign up unconditionally?  The answer is “no.”

Goals of the National HBPA include many of the wishes that are conveyed by the very piece of proposed legislation that we and many others oppose. We will continue to support efforts which place the health and welfare of our equine and human athletes first.

What we will not do is jeopardize our industry by partnering with organizations that openly criticize our beliefs and our passions. I am disappointed that The Jockey Club and its coalition members have done just that.

Eric J. Hamelback is the Chief Executive Officer of the National HBPA 

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