Trainer, Vet Relationships Discussed at ARC

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Terry Henderson | Lucas Marquardt

By Lucas Marquardt

The relationship between trainer and veterinarian was among the topics of conversation during a panel yesterday at the 36th Asian Racing Conference that included Australian owner Terry Henderson, who pulled no punches when criticizing what he viewed as his country’s over-reliance on vets. “It concerns me that in Australia, vets seem to have a free hand to treat horses in the stable without daily reference to the trainer,” said Henderson.

Henderson is a co-owner of OTI Racing, which campaigns horses in Australia and Europe, as well as a few in the U.S. “From that experience racing in both hemispheres, I can tell you there’s a large void between the practices of trainers and vets–and their respective relationship with each other–in Europe and Australia,” he said.

“On average, our vet bills in Australia are four times what they are in Europe,” Henderson continued. “It’s a fact of life that many Australian trainers see veterinary services as an income stream in their businesses. It’s not unusual for us to see a vet bill have 50% added to it when it comes through the trainer’s account, and we’re continually pulling up certain trainers on this aspect.”

He added later, “Only last week I rang up a very respected trainer and said, ‘What’s this A$300 bill for ‘SEAS’ supplied by the in-house vet?’ He said he didn’t know. He checked and called me back later, and said it was a seaweed supplement they give, but that it wasn’t much [good and would stop using it]. But we were stuck paying the A$300.”

Henderson added, “As owners, we’re not equipped to decide what supplement is worthwhile or not and what is absolutely necessary, but this nexus between trainer and vet must be broken.”

Henderson’s comments–which are likely to resonate with some in America–came during part of a larger panel entitled, “Drug-Free Racing–Are We Succeeding?”

Henderson said that conversation over medications in racing, legal and illegal, often revolves around detection and technology, “But there are other issues involved, too,” he said. “We must look at ways to shift the often long-established behavior patterns in Australian racing if want to be seen in the same way as Hong Kong, Japan, and indeed our European friends.”

A hearing over the alleged use of cobalt illustrated this point, said Henderson. “The trainer told the hearing that he did not question his vets on the common use of so-called ‘supplements’ provided to the horse,” he said. “And in this case, the vet himself said he relied on an associate junior vet to provide the vitamins without questioning the content of the vitamins. So the trainer said he was duped by the vet, the vet claimed he was duped by a junior vet. If this wasn’t so serious, and involved the welfare of the horse, the integrity of racing, and the trainer’s career, it would be something you’d expect to see in a Monty Python sketch.”

Henderson praised the steps Australian racing has taken in light of widespread cobalt scandals, and said there’s been a meaningful shift in both trainers’ attitudes and regulations. But he said more could be done, and called for a reform in the way young trainers are educated, coming in the form of industry-sponsored programs.

“Unless there’s a break in the nexus, young trainers will learn from their masters,” he said. “In Australia, it’s quite a simple task to go from being a stable hand one year to being a trainer the next. Not only does this serve horsemanship mediocrity, but it also serves to ape practices of the past. There’s a difference between a horseman and a trainer. A lot of people can train a horse to win a race. But to have 140 horses at three locations, with 70 staff? That’s different. By putting resources into training programs, we could have programs that require trainers to do certain things before they move from one size stable to another. Or take professional development programs that pretty much every other industry has. These guys run big businesses, and if we expect the sorts of integrity practices required for our industry, I think we’re being quite naive to think we don’t have to invest resources. If the industry in Australia can take control of the education process of potential trainers, then the chances of instilling standards and integrity in trainers are certainly enhanced.”

Henderson spoke on a panel with Louis Romanet, chairman of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities; Dr. Brian Stewart, Head of Equine Welfare and Veterinary Service for Racing Victoria; Dr. Jenny Hall, Chief Veterinary Officer for the British Horseracing Authority; and Dr. Teruaki Tozaki.

Stewart agreed with Henderson that racing in many jurisdictions needs to change the way it looks at medication. “Horses must compete on their ability and inherent merits, not merits created by pharmacology,” he said. When asked later by moderator Andrew Harding if racing should “call time on supplements” in light of the difficulties determining exactly what’s in them, Stewart said, “The only sensible advice is to keep it simple. Stay with reputable brands. Meet the nutritional needs of the horse, but don’t get into mega-dosing.”

Dr. Jenny Hall, chief veterinary officer of BHA, offered her thoughts on the appropriate role of vets in stables. Hall said there was little argument about the universal role vets should play–first-aid care, risk assessment, preventative medicine and standard care–but said there is no place in racing for “the team

doctor,” giving Michele Ferrari, the disgraced doctor who worked with Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service Cycling Team, as an example. As a regulatory vet, Hall said a robust out-of-competition program is essential. “Not just in terms of actually testing the horses, but because that means you go into the stable and have access to the barns. That’s what made us realize we had to do something about Thyroxine in the UK. We were finding it in the trainer’s feed rooms. Not their medication rooms, their feed rooms.”

Thyroxine is the thyroid treatment drug that caused a controversy in the US. when it was revealed that it was used indiscriminately by several prominent U.S. trainers.

Dr. Teruaki Tozaki, from Laboratory of Racing Chemistry in Japan, concluded the panel by speaking about the potential threat of gene doping, which he described as an abuse or misuse of gene therapy. The latter can be used too as a treatment for things like Muscular Dystrophy, and while Tozaki said he sees no evidence of a widespread problem in racing, he views it as a potential threat.

A Focus On China…

There aren’t many major breeding operations in the world that don’t dream somewhat wistfully about the prospect of a fully realized racing program in China, and development on the mainland was the focus of the second panel yesterday in Mumbai. An accomplished group looked at what infrastructure is in place, what needs to be established, and what challenges the industry faces there in light of a gambling ban that appears unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.

The good news? Jia Youling, president of the China Horse Industry Association, said that China already has some 30 racecourses, including seven that hold “speed” races such as Thoroughbred racing. China is also home to more than 800 equestrian clubs and horse farms, and there’s a long equestrian history in China, particularly in Mongolia.

However, Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s executive director, racing authority, said much needs to be done. “The reality is that there is no shortage of hardware,” he said. “But software is in much, much shorter supply.”

Trainers, stable staff, regulatory bodies, equine veterinarians, even farriers–these are the things that China currently lacks in sufficient number. A regulatory framework would need to be erected, as would systems for drug testing, registration, and training officials. Moreover, there have been two prior attempts at establishing a Thoroughbred racing industry here before, and both failed. The first came in the 1990s, when a first wave of tracks with a “wagering mission” closed within a decade. The second, characterized as “wait and see” investments, came about in the 2000’s, but these too didn’t get off the ground.

“The third wave, however, is now growing, and coming back with a real racing interest,” said Richard Cheung, the HKJC’s executive director, customer and marketing. “There is a clear re-emergence of interest in racing.”

Helping fuel this re-emergence is a group of Chinese owners who are promoting the sport, establishing racing clubs and, in some cases, even building their own tracks. “Owners are becoming a shaping force in the industry, forming a non-profit organization known as the China Horse Owners Association (CHOA) designed to promote the legitimate interest of owners and a platform for the exchange of information between them,” said Cheung.

Cheung said the CHOA was comprised of 200 owners representing 80% of the mainland horse owners. A HKJC analysis suggested the Top 10 mainland-based horse owners already own approximately 1,200 Thoroughbreds combined, and these and other owners are having an impact abroad.

Mongolian Khan (Aus) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}), owned by the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Group, won this year’s G1 Australian Derby and G1 Caulfield Cup. Breeders’ Cup fans, meanwhile, looked on with delight as the ownership group that campaigns Mongolian Saturday (Any Given Saturday)–Mongolian Stable–celebrated in traditional dress after the horse’s win in the G1 Turf Sprint.

“A lot of these owners were able to accumulate their wealth in many other sectors–natural resources, construction, real estate, retail–and what you see is that they’re using horse racing as leisure,” said Cheung. “And that’s a fundamental difference today in China versus 10, 15 years ago.”

Cheung took a closer look at the Rider Horse Group (RHG), which could be the first equine enterprise listed on a Chinese stock exchange at some point in 2016 after obtaining venture capital investment and completing a Series D round of investment last year.

“RHG is aiming to cover the entire commercial horse value chain, including horse importing, racecourse and racing operation business, livestock trading, horse transport, the feed industry, and consultation services,” said Cheung. “The path to sustainability and success are not clear at this point, but the development is more significant than most recognize.”

HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, who has played an integral role working with the Chinese in helping develop their nascent program, said patience is importance. “Things have to be done very systematically so as to not to jeopardize the industry,” he said. “It has huge potential, and 10, 20, 30 years from now, China could be a major player in the racing world. Since the last ARC in 2014, we have seen a significant increase in relevant activities associated with racing in the Mainland. For the healthy and sustainable development of racing and breeding in China, the number one priority is to establish a proper governance and regulatory framework. The Hong Kong Jockey Club signed a horse industry cooperation agreement with the China Horse Industry Association (CHIA) to build a capability in establishing such a regulatory framework and also for veterinary care to ensure horse welfare. We also announced a strategic cooperation with the Chinese Equestrian Association (CEA) to share our technical acumen and implementation experience to enhance all aspects of racing control and regulations.”

The HKJC is currently building a training center in the Guangdong Province just north of Hong Kong, and Anthony Kelly, the operation’s executive director of racing business and operations, gave a detailed update on the Conghua Training Centre, and the reasons why the center was being built in the first place.

“Running more than 780 races a season and with a four-year waiting list in Hong Kong to become an owner, we are currently operating at capacity on our current land,” said Kelly. “Development was delayed due to land slippage issues, [but] main works recommenced in October 2015, and the main works contract is underway with site handover planned for March 2018. Horses and training are due to commence in July 2018.”

The sprawling center will including a 2000-meter turf track with chutes at different distances, an equine hospital, an equine swimming pool, and an uphill gallop with 1.5% incline. Initial stabling capacity has been estimated to be 400, increasing to nearly 700 by 2020.

“The goal is to replicate Hong Kong’s operating model in Conghua with respect to staffing levels and the quality of veterinary care. We will source and train local staff for all manual and administrative functions, while work riders and track staff recruitment is already underway,” added Kelly. “When complete, Conghua will host barrier trials on a weekly basis and host racing carnivals, matching the world-class standards of integrity and competition for which the Hong Kong Jockey Club is famous.”

Biggest Issue of the Conference?

Illegal gambling operations took center stage once again in Mumbai Thursday. With the global problem pegged at $500 billion earlier by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, but estimated to reach as high as $1 trillion annually, the panel would “be most important of 2016 Asian Racing Conference,” said moderator Greg Purcell, CEO of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing. “Hopefully, you will leave today with a greater appreciation of the impact illegal, unlicensed and unregulated gambling operations will have on our sport.”

Sometimes called “offshore” operations, these bookmakers, betting exchanges and casino junkets are often legal in the jurisdictions in which they’re registered, but are considered illegal elsewhere.

Rupert Bolingbrok, head of trading at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, laid out the scope of the problem. He said there were some 2,500 illegal book-making sites in Asia alone, of which 20 to 30 could be considered “major” sites, such as CITIbet, AAStar.net, and SBOBet. These sites pay no fees to racing jurisdictions for accepting wagers on their product and typically pay only modest set-up and operating costs where they are registered, and can therefore pass that money on to their customers.

“These illegal bookmakers have been keen to adopt new technologies, especially mobile technology, target youth gambling, and release apps and multiple sites to give customers a way of getting around IP address issues,” Bolingbrok said. They also, in the case of big bettors, often let their clients wager on credit.

“We all aware that the rich guys, that top 1%, create 80% of the profit, and it’s easier to get your large-bet-size on with an illegal operator,” Bolingbrok said. “I was in a restaurant in Hong Kong a few yeas ago, and had next to me an ex-owner of a football club. While I was sitting there at dinner, he very brazenly and openly placed a $200,000 bet on the phone. It took him five seconds. And there’s just no way, with credit issues and such, that he could do that transaction with the [Hong Kong Jockey Club].”

Martin Purbrick, Director of Security & Integrity for the HKJC, said these sites used new, convenient online payment methods to circumvent banking regulations.

With a concentration in the Philippines, these sites often had links to organized crime, he said. By way of example, he told the store of the Malaysian national Paul Phua, the co-owner of one prominent betting junket named MaxBet who was arrested in Las Vegas in 2014 for running a $400 million soccer-betting ring from his villa at Caesars Palace. The charges were later dismissed on a technicality, but the story made international news, not least of which because Phua is allegedly a member of the 14K Triad–an international crime syndicate.

High mobility is another trait of illegal offshore operations. “With an operation like MaxBet, which handles $2 billion a week, I start to imagine a floor in a big building, and posh offices, but it’s nothing like that,” said Neil Patterson, detective superintendent of Victoria Police. “There’s a group of people who, with six or eight tech-heads, have a very portable operation. They use laptops that they can use anywhere in the world. That’s what they were doing in Las Vegas.”

Despite the huge amounts of money involved, government action against illegal bookmakers has been ineffective and, in many cases, absent altogether. That, according to Purbrick, is one goal of groups like the HKJC’s security taskforce, which works with the Hong Kong police. “We want to highlight the problem, we want to help governments and government agencies understand it, and we want to make this a systematic process,” Purbrick said. “And we think that this is a model that’s transferable [to other jurisdictions].”

The panelists agreed that one of the biggest concerns with illegal operations revolves around the integrity of the sport. Match-fixing scandals have rocked the cricket world in recent years, and just this past week the tennis world is the center of its own allegations of match fixing. Making the public aware that the company they’re betting with may be cheating in order to win those betters can help dissuade some customers.

“Horse racing is doing better than other sports dealing with betting-related corruption, but we need to maintain our focus on racing integrity,” said Purbrick.

They panelists also agreed on one other way to address the problem: by better competing with offshore sites.

“Within the boundaries of taxation, we need to compete on price,” said Bolingbrok.

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