Weekly Stewards and Commission Rulings: A Primer

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Starting next week, the TDN will begin a weekly roundup of key official rulings from the primary tracks within the four major racing jurisdictions of California, New York, Florida and Kentucky.

The task, however, of collecting these rulings has wrenched the curtain back on the fractured way in which the industry polices its own and then makes those rulings public–or not, as is often the case.

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) provides something of a gold standard, thanks to a centralized, easy-to-use database containing all stewards rulings from across the state.

Perhaps most importantly, it includes a soup to nuts of everything from medication violations to disorderly conduct on the backstretch to excessive use of the riding crop.

This isn't the case across the board, with information sometimes buried deep in hard-to-use websites, or else withheld from the public altogether.

When it comes to the Florida racing industry, which operates without a centralized commission, medication violations and excessive use of the whip offenses–at least those whip offenses pertaining to state rules–are supposed to be posted on the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations' (DBPR) website here.

The information, however, is limited. Indeed, to see a particular stewards' ruling, a final order, or a consent order, for example, you would need to make a public records request.

What's more, the website isn't organized in a chronologically searchable fashion, meaning, you would need to know in advance who the ruling is against before you could find it.

And so for the sake of our weekly endeavour as it pertains to Florida, we will also scour the Thoroughbredrulings and ARCI's Recent Rulings websites alongside the DBPR. Because those other databases aren't always updated on a timely basis for similar reasons, however, the information we impart may be similarly tardy.

Other offenses in Florida, like most riding violations, are handled by the individual tracks according to their house rules. In the case of Gulfstream Park, however, these rulings aren't made public.

The situation in Florida does appear poised to change thanks to an administrative hearing ruling from earlier in the year.

Expected imminently, a panel of stewards–one from the state and two association stewards–will begin hearing horse racing related medication and riding offenses in Florida.

When will this new system start? The answer is unclear. And where will these rulings be posted? That's unclear, too. But we will be following developments.

Interestingly, a state bill signed into law earlier this year creates a gaming commission in Florida.

That legislation was signed into law alongside two companion bills. One is commonly referred to as the Seminole Compact, that permits the Seminole Tribe to operate sports betting and adds craps and roulette to the tribe's casinos, among other things. The other was a decoupling bill, which allows racetracks and other gaming facilities to host other forms of gambling.

A ruling late last month in a Washington D.C. federal court invalidated the compact, however. Will this impact plans to create a gaming commission? Possibly, said Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based attorney who has been following this case closely.

“All three statutes–the Seminole Compact, the creation of this new gaming agency, and the decoupling of Harness racing and Quarter Horse racing–they were all adopted at the same time, and, crucially, the effectiveness of decoupling and the creation of the agency was expressly tethered to the effective date of the compact becoming a law,” Wallach said.

Therefore, Wallach added, “If the compact is no longer effective since it was invalidated by a federal court, then it raises the question of whether the statutes creating the agency and the decoupling of non-Thoroughbred horse racing are invalid as well.”

The creation of a Florida gaming commission, experts say, wouldn't likely have an impact on the way horse racing related offences are adjudicated, however.

When it comes to New York, their rule book is “older, and certainly less prescriptive in some areas, than what you might be used to seeing in other jurisdictions,” explained Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, the Jockey Club steward for the New York Racing Association (NYRA), in a written statement.

Issues like medication violations, reckless or careless riding, and of conduct detrimental to racing are supposed to be posted on the New York State Gaming Commission's website here.

Violations of the NYRA house rule on whip use–which limits the number of consecutive strikes to five and prohibits use of the crop when a horse is no longer in contention–as well as other minor backstretch infractions, are handled in-house by NYRA by a board of stewards. These rulings are not made public.

The TDN has asked NYRA if it will share on a weekly basis any whip-related rulings, which NYRA says happens fairly infrequently. A response is pending.

When it comes to Kentucky, the state's Horse Racing Commission makes public its administrative rulings here, at the bottom of the page. Higher up on the same page are links to the race day stewards actions and comments.

Will the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) make any difference–if, indeed, it goes into effect on July 1? When it comes to medication violations, expect things to remain disjointed in the beginning.

For the first six months of the program, post-race medication violations will continue to be handled by the individual commissions and posted on their individual websites.

And for those same first six months, the out-of-competition (OOC) testing program will be handled by the enforcement agency, most likely the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which will post results on its website.

Come 2023, all post-race and OOC testing is expected to be handled by USADA, and therefore, all results are expected to be posted on its website.

When it comes to other violations, things have a similarly fractured look to them.

There are certain issues like dangerous riding and minor backstretch altercations that don't fall under HISA's purview, and which, as a result, will continue to be adjudicated by state stewards (and therefore posted on their individual websites–or not, as the case may be).

But matters like excessive whipping and use of an electronic device (i.e., a buzzer) do fall under the act's remit. As such, these offenses will be heard by one of two different panels.

  1. An individual jurisdiction can enter into a voluntary agreement with the Authority which will allow its existing state stewards to adjudicate these offenses.
  2. If they don't enter into a voluntary agreement, a separate body of stewards, overseen and managed by the Authority, will hear these cases.

And where will these rulings be posted? At the moment, that's unclear, though it does appear as though they will be posted on a publicly available centralized website at some point after the act goes into effect.

There are a couple of important things to note before we begin this weekly process.

One is that, because California appears to be the only one of the four major jurisdictions to post rulings on minor backstretch infractions, we will stick primarily to medication and riding offenses, so as not to treat the California licensees unfairly.

The second is that the information the TDN posts weekly will only be as timely as that issued on each jurisdiction's websites. Expect a bit of a time drag, therefore.

“As a steward, I would be interested in seeing a weekly summary,” Durenberger wrote, about the TDN's plans. “I believe it's been suggested to HISA to require house rulings and associated fines to be made public in a centralized searchable database.”

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