By Bill Finley
It has been more than two weeks since 60 Minutes aired a piece on horse racing and its myriad problems, but it's still a smoldering issue. Many within the industry thought 60 Minutes had been unfair to the sport, presenting a piece that was unbalanced and focused far more on what's going wrong than what's going right. The Jockey Club said they did not ask 60 Minutes to do the segment, but did agree to participate and its chairman, Stuart Janney III, was among those interviewed. So what did Janney think of the piece? Did he think it was unfair? And what role, if any, did The Jockey Club play in contacting 60 Minutes to suggest they take a look at horse racing? The TDN reached out to Janney to ask those questions and more.
TDN: A simple question to start, what did you think of the segment?
SJ: I don't think there were any inaccuracies. What was reported was, basically and arguably, true. They did oversimplify the reasons that horses break down. They came to some conclusions early on. A lot of the questions they asked me were about trying to find a simple solution to the breakdown issue. I pushed back and thought I had won that argument, that horses break down for a variety of reasons and that it would misleading to say there was just one thing or that it was because of performance-enhancing drugs. It can happen for a lot of reasons. There's not one simple solution to that problem. I talked to them in June. They talked to me for about three hours. They talked to Lisa Lazarus for at least an hour. That was a big subject of the discussion. I think they oversimplified that.
TDN: As we are sure you know, a lot of people were upset by the piece and thought that it was unfair. Do you understand why some people were so angry?
SJ: I get it. There are a lot of people who say let's have more nice stories about horse racing. Let's have a story about Cody's Wish. I agree with that. I'd love to have more of those stories out there. But there are other stories that are going to be a part of the landscape until we get to a better place on some of these issues. Let's not be fighting with each other about that. We have to understand that is the reality. I thought we were going to get a much more positive story. But I think it could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse. I have a view that some people seem to disagree with. In today's world you have to deal with the realities that news organizations are going to do what they're going to do and there's no running away from that. Had we not participated, the story would have been worse. I thought to tell our side of the story it was important that we participate. Having said that, let's be honest, when they interview you for three hours and it comes down to a 15-minute segment and your part is maybe a quarter of that a lot can go wrong.
TDN: How was this story initiated and what role, if any, did The Jockey Club play in suggesting to 60 Minutes that it explore doing a segment on horse racing?
SJ: We did not have discussions with them in any way to initiate the segment. Over the last two or three years, (Meadowlands owner) Jeff Gural had promoted this project and had some contacts with them. Our contacts with 60 Minutes evaporated when Jeff Fager left CBS in 2018. He is the son of the famous Dr. Fager, who the horse was named after.
They called us a several years ago and asked if we would be interested in being interviewed on this story. We said, people are still awaiting trial, the investigation is in no way concluded and the legislation we've been pushing hasn't passed. We said we're not ready to participate at this time.
At some point, Gural got their interest going again. His interests and our interests are different. He owns a racetrack and has conducted a lonely crusade to get drugs out of harness racing. He has been opposed not only by people doing bad things but by the leadership of the harness racing world. His interest was to stir things up and keep the heat on. We look at things differently than he does.
CBS came to us again in April. The concept of the show was there's been a big investigation, you hired 5 Stones and 5 Stones got the federal government involved. People were arrested, there were wiretaps, there were trials and now you have legislation that changes the landscape. That's our story. We said, yes we would participate with that. We did have a couple of conditions. We told them we don't want to be involved with something that is going to show old canned footage of horses breaking down on the track and we're not going to appear on a show where you're also going to involve PETA and Horseracing Wrongs. They said, that's fine. We said ok, that we would then talk to them when they were ready.
Unfortunately, since when we had that conversation, we had the situation at Churchill Downs and another problem at the Preakness. They were up front about it. They said due to amount of publicity that has occurred lately with the breakdown issue we can't overlook that. You're going to have to deal with it. But the thrust of the story will still to be what I just described to you. Under those conditions, we agreed to go forward.
They did most of their filming in June. Then, over the summer we had two really horrible and well-publicized breakdowns at Saratoga. Saratoga did not have a good year in terms of breakdowns. When it came time to edit, they went more in that direction.
TDN: So what took place when they interviewed you?
SJ: I was interviewed for three hours and two hours of the interview was all about the original intent of the show. The other hour was about breakdowns. My response was that we were working on it and that we have a new team in place that has the authority to get something done. Secondly, we have some of the best people out there who are working on this and we have the tracks and HISA working together. I cited what happened at Churchill, where everybody was on board and agreed on the right strategy. That wasn't happening in the past. To the extent that they called into question racing's degree of commitment to fixing the problems, I said we used to have an industry regulated by the state racing commissions and, in my opinion, they let us down very badly. I talked about how you could not imagine any other sport that is regulated on a state-by-state basis. It wouldn't work. There was a system in place that was built to fail. Here we are and we have a new system.
TDN: What would you have liked 60 Minutes to have done differently?
SJ: I would have liked them to have emphasized the story of what has taken place with our industry. The federal government has said to us that we are the only industry in their memory that has called on them to come in and clean house and are the only industry that cooperated as fully as we did. 60 Minutes didn't do enough to emphasize that aspect of the story. I would have liked there to have been more discussion of how bad the old system was. There are many more good people in racing than the handful of very bad people. But if you don't have a system with rules, proper penalties, uniformity and accountability the bad guys are going to win. Every racing commission I ever had anything to do with was undermanned and uninterested. That way of doing things was a failure. The commissions were not doing their job. Look at New Jersey, where you had Servis and Navarro. Did they ever lose a race? Those are the things that I thought would be a bigger part of the story.
TDN: In your interview, you spoke of telling 5 Stones to not be afraid to go after the biggest names in the sport. Did that mean you gave them a laundry list of trainers to investigate?
SJ: People are taking issue with comment I made in the interview about going after the 'big fish.' They've conflated that with us somehow targeting people. We didn't. They also made comment that wouldn't it be interesting to see who else they wiretapped? I don't have any idea who the FBI did or did not wiretap. 5 Stones didn't ask to The Jockey Club or anyone else so far as who they were going to investigate and we did not specify who or how they would investigate. What 5 Stones did was to create a body of work to take to the federal government that said here is what we found and suggested that a lot is going on in this industry that shouldn't be happening and that is big enough and important enough that you should be interested. After that, the federal government was in charge. To suggest that I targeted anybody is really to misunderstand how the process worked.
TDN: What else do you think people are getting wrong when they complain about The Jockey Club and the segment?
SJ: People seem to assume that The Jockey Club is interested in running the sport. We are not. The reason we took on the issues we took on, hired 5 Stones and were pushing very hard for the bill that led to HISA goes back to 2010 or so. We started saying that we have a big integrity problem in this sport and we're not going to continue to have a sport unless we solve this. I felt that was falling on deaf ears. Nobody was doing anything and there was no unity in the industry. By 2014, 2015, we started to feel that The Jockey Club had to do something.
The Jockey Club has, basically, two missions. One is to protect the integrity of the stud book. When you have all sorts of racing results contaminated by performance-enhancing drugs you're not doing a very good job of protecting the stud book. Secondly, it is to grow the sport. It was our view that we have to be competitive with other forms of gambling and if you're not addressing the integrity issue you're not doing what needs to be done to grow the sport. That's when we hired 5 Stones and went forward.
I don't look at social media but (Jockey Club CEO and President) Jim (Gagliano) has sent me some things when they are posted. It bothered me that there were people saying that Bessemer Trust had been making millions off the industry by managing The Jockey Club's funds. Bessemer Trust has never taken any money from The Jockey Club. We have helped The Jockey Club select third-party managers, which we have done for free. We will occasionally give them advice regarding their portfolio. We do that for free, as well. All the money that is paid out from any of the portfolios goes to outside managers that we have no financial interest in.