By Mike Kane
There was no mistaking the theme to the The Jockey Club’s 63rd annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing Sunday morning: support for federal legislation to put in place uniform national medication rules with oversight by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
The two-hour program in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., concluded with a salute to Ogden Mills Phipps, who retired Saturday after 32 years as chairman of The Jockey Club. Phipps was presented with The Jockey Club Medal in recognition of his service by his successor Stuart S. Janney III.
Prior to the Phipps tribute, during the second half of the Round Table, Olympic champion and USADA Chairman Edwin Moses, Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear and James Gagliano, president and CEO of The Jockey Club, spoke about the benefits that could come from a federal approach through legislation–the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015– introduced in the House of Representatives in July. Currently, reform is underway on a state by state basis.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), a co-sponsor of the bill whose district includes Saratoga Race Course, was introduced at the Round Table. In his remarks, Gagliano said that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) confirmed Sunday that she would sponsor similar legislation in the U.S. Senate. Gagliano also said that Frank Stronach, chairman of the Stronach Group, which owns several major tracks, met with Moses on Saturday about the legislation, “and he has embraced it,” subject to confirmation about the board’s mandates.
Rick Bailey, The Jockey Club registrar, announced that microchips will become a mandatory part of the equine identification program beginning with the 2017 foal crop.
Moses explained how he became an advocate for clean competition during his distinguished track and field career and talked about how the Olympics successfully dealt the same type of cheating and integrity issues facing racing. He said the USADA was first approached by members of Congress in 2012 about horse racing anti-doping legislation.
“I am here today because at this moment in time horse racing has an opportunity to take a new path and to make a serious change to protect the future of the sport and we have been asked to help,” he said. “But now is the time for action, not just talk.”
Moses said the current regulatory framework in horse racing was similar to what he faced in his sport.
“It was very clear that the current system didn’t work,” he said. “You could not have a system where the fox was guarding the hen house as it breeds levels of suspicion, favoritism and unequal enforcement of the rules of the game. It was a system that eroded the integrity of the sport, the confidence of the athletes and ultimately affected the bottom line because TV revenues were down and sponsors were wary to be involved in a sports business where fans didn’t have confidence in the results they were seeing. It also put the health and safety of the athletes at extreme risk.”
The USADA is an independent, non-profit organization, Moses said, and is not a government agency. “We’re a lean, nimble, high-performing, results-driven organization just like the athletes that we represent and protect,” he said.
The evaluation of the performance of the anti- doping system is done through what Moses called the “matrix of effectiveness.” Those six components include:
Is the program independent and free from outside and internal interference?
Is there year-round, no-notice out-of-competition testing for both blood and urine?
Is there an exhaustive list of prohibited substances and methods that are published and updated regularly?
Is there a significant investment of money and time into scientific research for the detection of new doping substances and techniques?
Are there established partnerships with law enforcement to hold accountable those who illegally manufacture, traffic, and distribute these dangerous drugs?
Moses said that education is an important part of the approach.
“Our goal at USADA is not to catch people who are uninformed,” he said. “Our goal is to catch people who are intentionally cheating and remove them from sport.”
There is resistance to change, Moses said, but change can be a positive.
“It is absolutely worth it to protect the future of the sport and the health and safety of those who participate,” he said. “At USADA we stand ready to help as we can to help share out experiences to bring an anti-doping campaign to the sport of horse racing.”
Beshear pointed to the importance of the equine industry and racing to Kentucky and said significant improvements have been made in the state. However, since individual states have been unable to accomplish the goals, Beshear supports national changes.
“Kentucky endorses and embraces the need for broad-based reform that includes not only uniform medication rules, but also common testing rules and procedures, the required use of certified labs, consistent enforcement and penalties, the creation of a national medication regulatory authority and a system that responds quickly to address ever-changing trends in the drug landscape,” he said. “Folks, the only way we’re going to achieve those changes is through federal legislation.”
Gagliano said he was representing the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity and urged industry stakeholders to support the federal approach through the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Agency.
“We may not all agree on the best road to reform, but we do agree that change is needed,” he said.
Gagliano said the members of the coalition put a lot of effort into the development of the bill.
“These groups all exist for different reasons, but we all share a common goal and a common bond through this coalition,” he said. “We believe that this particular piece of legislation can once and for all bring much-needed uniformity to the sport.”
Bailey, the registrar, said that microchip technology is already in place in many other major racing countries.
“It’s fair to say that microchips have become standard within the international Thoroughbred industry,” Bailey said. “Stud books in countries such as England, Ireland, France, South Africa, Australia and others have instituted microchips as a requirement for registration. Representatives have recorded at the International Stud Book Committee a successful transition to the use of microchips with minimal issues or problems.”
Bailey said The Jockey Club has found solid support for the move to microchips, which have been used with the identification of pets for two decades. The Jockey Club will supply the microchips in its registration materials and there will be no change in registration fees.
The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee issued two new recommendations. The first called for the development of a centralized database for data collected during post-mortem examination of racing-related injuries. The second encouraged all North American racing associations and regulatory authorities to require all Thoroughbreds featured on any official veterinarian’s lists for soundness, illness, physical distress, infirmity or any other medical reason to demonstrate fitness to return to competition.
Bill Squadron, executive vice president, Strategic Relationships, STATS LLC, the leading sports technology, data and content company, announced that it has entered into a strategic partnership with Equibase Company to develop products and services for horseplayers.
Phipps received a standing ovation when Janney completed his remarks and presented the medal.
“Dinny has quietly devoted thousands of hours to initiatives he thought would improve the conditions of Thoroughbred breeding and racing, often reminding those around him of the importance of consumer confidence in our sport,” Janney said. “With his guidance, we have made significant strides in the areas of medication, aftercare, technology and marketing, to name a few. He has believed for a long time that The Jockey Club should be more than a breed registry and in the past 32 years it surely has been.”