Trainer Jamie Ness began serving a 100-day suspension Feb. 19 as part of a consent order to address a dozen clenbuterol positives in horses racing from December 2012 to March 2014 at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park.
Three days after the start of that suspension, Ness's wife, Mandy, sent out Uncle Woodrow to victory in a Tampa Bay claiming race that carried a $12,700 purse. Uncle Woodrow had made his previous start for Jamie Ness in January at Tampa.
If you're thinking there should be a rule against a suspended trainer moving his horses to his wife, not only are you correct but there is such a rule; in fact, it's the industry standard. But racing is a sport where industry standards are not necessarily in place in every state, even major racing states like Florida.
Florida has not put in place the industry's model rule that prohibits a suspended trainer from moving their horses to a family member, which means Mandy Ness will be saddling horses formerly trained by her husband while horseplayers at outlets throughout the country shake their heads and sigh.
In 2009 the Association of Racing Commissioners International adopted a model rule that prohibits any trainer suspended for 30 days or longer from moving horses to a family member. The umbrella regulatory group heard the concerns of horseplayers, fans, and industry leaders and took action. But the ARCI cannot force states to adopt the rule.
Because each state has the power to adopt a model rule, adopt its own version of a model rule, or ignore a model rule, all too often racing sees problems that already have been addressed by rules make unwanted returns in states that haven't fully adopted those rules. Under this scenario, racing never gets the satisfaction of saying "problem solved."
And unfortunately for racing, especially in this era when the vast majority of wagers are made off track, black eyes are not contained by a state's borders. Jamie Ness moving his horses to his wife during his suspension is not Florida's problem. It's racing's problem.
Situations of racing taking heat because a state has not put a model rule in place are too common. The current model rule on stanozolol would have prevented Masochistic from starting in the 2016 TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), but because California's policy veered from that rule, the gelding was allowed to start with the anabolic steroid in his system and was disqualified following a post-race positive.
The California policy on anabolic steroids only required a treated horse not race for 60 days. The model rule requires a horse that has received such treatment spend at least 60 days away from racing AND complete a drug test that shows the anabolic steroid is at a permissible level.
When California didn't adopt the second part of that model rule, perhaps it didn't seem especially different from the model rule. But the part of the model rule that requires a clean test for a horse that has been treated with an anabolic steroid was put there for a reason. It was considered and debated by the industry and the ARCI. Then regulators adopted it as a model rule.
Then California ignored an important part of that model rule; a decision that would impact the sport at last year's Breeders' Cup.
Before last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, when a pre-race test showed Masochistic still tested positive for stanozolol, the model rule would have required him to sit out the race or be tested again until he registered a clear test.
The ARCI, which works to encourage uniformity but carries no authority to enforce its model rules, continues to search for avenues to bring about uniformity. Its latest effort in this regard is a committee that will review integrity standards in each state. The hope is that racing states that have adopted model rules and are largely compliant may pressure those lagging behind by not allowing simulcast signals from the non-compliant states.
Individual states are also working to improve uniformity. Earlier this month Maryland took steps that saw the state move toward joining several others in automatically adopting any model rule put in place or changed at the ARCI level. In Kentucky, the Equine Drug Research Council reviewed all of its rules, and in February recommended changes to bring state rules in line with some model rules.
Those who support federal legislation that would pave the way for the United States Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent organization to oversee horse racing's medication issues believe this is the best way to ensure uniformity.
For now the sport continues to function under a system in which the sport's leaders and regulators work hard to shape model rules that work for the sport but after all of that time and effort debating and creating rules, they can only ask that states adopt those model rules.
The ARCI board recently approved rule changes that will require a horse administered an anabolic steroid not race for at least six months. It's a change that followed much discussion and debate and the industry is confident it will improve the sport's
It's also a rule that will have no effect in states that choose to ignore it.