Time to Rewrite the Rules

By Ned Bonnie

Ned Bonnie is a retired equine attorney with Frost Brown Todd and a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Thirty-eight separate racing commissions with limited budgets, staff, and experienced attorneys have resulted in poor drug enforcement in racing. When there is money to be made in any industry and there are few rules and limited investigatory staff with no skilled and experienced prosecutors, the system is ripe for manipulation and corruptive influences.

I’ve been on most, if not all, the drug testing and control committees for the past 20 years. The testing laboratories have improved greatly during these years, but they look for known drugs. They are paid to test for these drugs. Because labs are often bidding for testing contracts, the cheapest testing bids win. Few, if any, of these contracts include a research component. Time and time again an illegal drug has been in use for years (reserpine, cobra venom, dermorphin) before a test is developed. Laboratories protect their reputations and contracts by being very careful not to declare false positives.

Statistics are offered by defenders of the present system of post-race testing and prosecution of offenders to justify the status quo. The great majority of these cases involve the misuse of therapeutic drugs and result in minimum fines and suspensions of the trainers. What about loss of purse and suspension of the horse involved? How about suspending the veterinarians and drug salesmen who peddle the illegal drugs? What about the drugs that get by the testing laboratories?

More and better personnel require more money and leadership. We need innovative rule writing, such as licensing drug companies that manufacture and sell products to horsemen so if needed we can subpoena the records of these companies to identify the offending drugs and prosecute persons and corporations.

Who should run this operation? We need a national organization to rewrite our rules and broaden their scope. We need to employ an experienced investigatory staff (not try to replicate these ideas in 38 different states) to infiltrate the groups that manufacture and sell the drugs to the racing industry. Then we need to hire experienced and skilled attorneys to prosecute these cases. This prosecutorial staff would be on-call to go anywhere in the States to prosecute. The IRS has used this prosecutorial technique for years after experiencing too many losses at trial by earnest, but inexperienced, district attorneys facing highly experienced, specialized defending attorneys.

The United States Equestrian Federation wrote a national drug rule, employed one laboratory of the highest caliber, wrote due process rules to protect the interests of all participants, and employed experienced, skilled attorneys who have special skills needed to prosecute successfully often complicated chemical and veterinary issues. Does the racing industry deserve less?

The industry has been successful in persuading the federal government to stay out of the racing business on these issues. However, the New York Times, The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA), and other groups have increased the pressure on the industry to make positive changes. The result is that the threat of federal legislation, which is both punitive and aggressive, is on the horizon.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield appear to be serious about changing the landscape. In this election year neither the Federal Trade Commission nor the Department of Agriculture (federal agencies mentioned in the hallways) has the money to take on an oversight of racing. Furthermore, ensuring racing integrity and protecting the horses and jockeys are not high on the budget-constrained list of federal priorities. However, the racing industry could finance the infrastructure and ongoing costs. While running a federal program was estimated at $30 million and the annual drug testing and prosecution at $40 million in 1980, the industry has the resources today to fund these initiatives. How about assessing owners a few dollars per start? No owner I’ve talked with would object to paying $20 per start when he is paying $20 to $30 to have his horse ponied to the post. The money could be supplemented by fees from each racing state and the racetracks. This agreement would be a part of the federal regulatory process.

The creation of this national group will cause considerable angst. It will be difficult to work out the drug rules and the relationship with 38 states on, but not limited to, enforcement, investigation, hearings, procedures, etc. Fortunately, it has been done before, not only in the U.S. but in other countries, and can be done again.

Why should the industry try it? If we do not, the rule writers for the federal statute will impose their bill and their views on our industry. That threat should be enough to make us successful this time around.


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Racing cannot seem to pull it together even over minor issues, let alone a plan of this scope.  Rules differ from state to state, and even from track to track.

For a sport not known for its integrity, horse racing is unfortunately becoming a whipping boy for the media, and a relic of another golden age.

Everyone wants a national overseer, but no one ever starts anywhere.  The matter is discussed ad infinitum, but there is never any action taken.

Perhaps it is time for more action and less "study" groups.  Maybe it's time to start a pilot program in one state, rather than just talk about what should be done across all the states.

17 Jul 2012 5:06 PM
Nick Danger

Mr Bonnie,

It wasn't long ago a certain quasi native american wrote that "In Ky,a horse can come to the paddock with a Morphine drip and get by with it" Exaggerated ? Yes. Most liberal of all major racing jurisdictions ? It was at that time.

I have said previously that a federal law establishing uniform medication and penalty standards seem logical but the devil is in the deatils as with all well intended public policy initiatives. Licensees should receive all constitutional and civil rights enjoyed by all American citizens. Some state regulators believe they are given "broad powers" by their state legislatures to help them enforce their regulations. Regulators always want more money and more power. "Power tends to Corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

17 Jul 2012 6:18 PM
an ole railbird

  if it becomes nessasary for the horseman to bow to this new type of controls.

 how do the horseman, insure that the rules will be written by qualified people. due to the fact that horseman are the only ones that are close enough to the industry to know the mechnics of it.

 my question is, how much imput will the actual participants have in writing the new rules.?

  and who will set the criteria, of how the authors will be selected?.

before signing on to any mass movement, to write new rules. these questions need to be adressed, & explored, in great detail.

 thank you for letting me have an opinion.

    nice day to all,

    "an ole railbird".

17 Jul 2012 7:41 PM

Railbird, makes so me good points, however the author is right on. Given the 'slots" $ in play in N.Y., Pa., Md, La., etc certainly a small fraction could be applied to this MISSION CRITICAL initiative. There are many retired or almost retired (Jerkins, and others) that could get a stipend and 2nd career helping craft the rules. They know what's what and are fully qualifed do act in the horses and ultimately the industry's best interest. Owners will ultimately benefit too by having fewer breakdowns and more importantly from a $ situation a "level playing field". enough already with these state czar's. Trainers argue the current state systme is too complicated and the cause of many of the 'violations". Time to remove all the excuses , break down the barriers and allocate $ which will really be an investmetn in racing's future vs. a 'cost".

18 Jul 2012 10:26 AM

The OP notes that most violations are minor therapeutic violations and in the next sentence confuses therapeutics with illegal performance enhancers.  That is so typical.  Anybody out there that can keep it straight?  And, is too much being made of this ridiculous issue.  Most people on the back stretch are honest, really!  And, as a corollary, how many of the true cheaters, of whom are so small in number--how many of these ever win a race?  Is this worth all this rigor marow because a few paranoid horse players keep bellowing?  Will somebody sane please put this issue in perspective.

18 Jul 2012 3:13 PM
Old Old Cat

Before we go to the trouble to REWRITE the rules we had better do a damn good job of writing them.  Before we WRITE the rules we had better do a damn good job of writing the definitions and the objectives.

First: What are the purposes of the rules???  

I say the health of the horses should be first along with the health and well being of the jockeys who ride them.  

Second should be the integrity of the game of racing to present an even playing field to the betting public and the owners and trainers who have so much invested: time, money, effort, etc.

Third should be what is not to be tollerated under any circumstances: cobra venom, narcotics, illegal steriods, etc.

Fourth should be a realistic measurement of what level of toxicity should be allowed and under what circumstances penalties should be imposed: warnings, minor fines, suspensions, disbarment from ever setting foot at a racetrack again.  

Just because we can test for one part in 500 million billion does not mean that we should.  Professional ballplayers have been found guilty of drug violations with minute amounts of a drug which could be more easily explained by the supplement company not washing out their tanks and lines with industrial solvent each and every time they switch production.  Even our food processing companies are required to warn people with alergies (sometimes very severe) if their facilities  also process peanuts, milk products, nuts, etc.

I explained the O'Neil "milkshaking" episode to my friends who were not real horse people.  I said the ingredients were all legal compounds that can be taken by people and horses, and that together they improve the horses digestion and allow the horse to rid itself of lactic acid more readily, and that the level of exposure in the horse in question, a low level claimer not expected to win the race anyway, which finished up where it was expected to be, was slightly over the maximum allowable (10%, probably one sigma), and that the investigators had determined that PAUL O'NEIL DID NOT MILKSHAKE THE HORSE, and that as reported in local Maryland publications that our group would have probably just dismissed the whole issue.  Most of the responses I got were "Why is something good for the horse illegal???"

I think overreaching witchhunt mentality by those in power can be worse than doing nothing.  It can cast a shadow on horseracing where there may be no existing "structure" to produce one.

18 Jul 2012 5:04 PM
Your Only Friend

One trainer got nailed big time 10 years ....maybe it will open some eyes, but will not help until all racing states adopt same racing medication rules. Ya all better get with the program or you will have Uncle Sam writing the rules.

19 Jul 2012 7:17 PM

At Old Old Cat and the rest of the dinosaurs on this matter.... try following the REST OF THE WORLD's legislations!!!! you are playing catch up, not pioneering anything, the USA ploughs a lone furrow and is getting ever more detached from other racing jurisdictions who are leap years ahead on drug intolerance. And as for the horseman regulating anything, forget it.  Their refusal to accept what is staring them in the face has brought the racing to the edge of the abyss that it is standing on now.  I love the continued comparison to footballers shoving supplements / stimulants down their neck as if this is the example to set racing against.

27 Jul 2012 11:41 AM

Dooquila:  You made excellent points.  I, too, do not have confidence that the horseracing industry has the interest or ability to make substantial changes and ensure the safety of the horses and jockeys.  (One should never forget that a horse that breaks down on the tracks also endangers the life of its jockey.)  So, do we keep talking or do we act?  While I may not support everything in the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011 (S.886), it opens up necessary dialogue in the U.S. Senate.  Some change is better than no change.  If this bill gets sufficient support by prominent senators, this should get coverage in the mainstream media so that the U.S. public is more aware of what is happening on our tracks.  I urge everyone who is interested, in seeing substantial changes, contact their U.S. Senator.  I have and will continue to be vocal with those people who may get this atrocity resolved. If industries cannot establish responsibilities among their members, the federal government may(and should)step in and do so.  

23 Aug 2012 8:51 PM

The horseracing industry has had enough time to get their act together.  They've dragged their feet for how many years?  When any industry does not regulate itself, the federal goverment will do so.  And, time's up!  There will always be a bit of "chaos" with a change.  That is typical and to be expected.  During this time, details will be altered but, at least, these changes will be made and the discussions will become serious.  But, for those of us who believe that this change is important and urgent, we can't just keep writing comments on websites.  We need to get this talk outside our small circle and to do our part to make certain that those who are able to make these changes are informed as well as to make the public aware of the "ugly" side of this sport.  The changes that are being suggested save the lives of horses--as well as the lives of the jockeys riding them!  Start by contacting your state senators and leading newspapers to endorse the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act of 2011 (S.886-- and do it today.  I have and will continue to do so. And, time is critical: The bill is pending!

26 Aug 2012 4:24 PM

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