The Jockey Club Does Not Speak for Me

By Ronald Maus
Seattle, Wash.

As a subscriber to The Blood-Horse, horse owner and breeder, I would like to take a moment to offer a point of view contrary to that held by Eric Mitchell, his TOBA handlers, and their cousins at The Jockey Club.

My inspiration to speak up came from trainer and New York Thoroughbred Horseman's Association president Rick Violette Jr., whose this week bravely offered comments published in the Daily Racing Form. Mr. Violette publicly questions the intent and ultimate impact of The Jockey Club's continuing proselytization to its view of medication and federalism. To Mr. Violette, I say, "Right on, brother."

Mr. Violette bravely and directly addresses an ongoing "elephant in the room." The Jockey Club--through its essentially unheeded calls to arms (i.e. as identified in another online publication, less than 200 of the 40,000 licensed owners and trainers in the country have signed on "The Pledge" to provide open records on horse veterinarian treatment), as well as The Jockey Club's separate threat in the coming summer to call for the federal government to oversee horseracing if medication reform is not passed on its timetable--continuously tries to dominate and "lead" an industry in which it actually does not participate.

Sure, it is likely that a number of The Jockey Club's secret and select membership (ironically, isn't this the same organization that presently calls for openness and transparency in all other things?) do personally breed or own horses, but The Jockey Club itself has but one primary identifiable function: horse registry services. Otherwise, The Jockey Club does not own a racetrack, it does not own a racing horse in America, it does not train a single racing horse in America, and it does not put on any races in America. (Yes, it owns information services summarizing data created from the investments and efforts of the other participants in the sport, from which it enjoys apparent substantial profit, but The Jockey Club does not otherwise directly participate in the sport). So, if the federal government is placed in lordship over racing in America, one can only presume that it may too seek to take over horse registry and data accumulation services, which may be the only profitable aspect of the entire sport.

Even the very research that The Jockey Club financially sponsored, leading to the seminal findings proving the actual medical efficacy of Lasix in reducing exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding in racehorses, it chooses to ignore. The Jockey Club ignores this research, apparently, to command the version of racing's Bully Pulpit to which it apparently believes it is singularly entitled. Who else but The Jockey Club could be so brazen as to make clear through its chairman that it is drawing a "line in the sand," daring other (actual) participants in racing to get all medication rules uniformly passed by the end of August, or it will raise its righteous hand upon them, and strike with a vengeance, using its partner in monopoly, the United States Government, against the citizens of this "industry"?

Problem is, racing is far from being an "industry" in any sense of that word. It is in fact a collection of numerous disparate self-interests, all competitive one against another at every level, and generally aligned along areas of their own microeconomic interests, such as breeders, trainers, vets, owners, racetrack operators, advance deposit wagering platforms, regulators, and many more. This is then sub-divided further into geographic regions, and states, and even to competitors within certain states. Each of these various factions are in constant--and often acrimonious--battle, trying to latch on to some part of the wagered dollar. While there is little doubt that the current system has and will ultimately prove unhealthy to many, it does tend to find an economic equilibrium, as horse prices at auction or the ability to win purses, all juxtaposed against the costs of involvement, forces each participant to decide whether he or she weathers the storm, or just gives up.

Broadening federal rule beyond the Interstate Horseracing Act launches all kinds of new and important questions. Before anyone screams too loudly for federal intervention, I think it appropriate that we collectively think about what a true federal involvement in racing could mean. No one should think it will be limited to creating uniform medication rules. Might not an "involved" federal government become a party (by its own choice or by some disadvantaged participant's request) to whom many would turn to have oversight on other matters? They could "help" with issues such as regulating "splits" between track operator, ADW platform, horseman, and regulator; jockey and trainer education standards; living quarter specifications for grooms and their families; greater involvement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement; federal determinations as to safe racing surface standards; standardized contributions for Thoroughbred aftercare; and many other elements of racing that can be addressed on a federal basis. Maybe federal involvement will provide "favor" not on the basis of the wagered dollar, but instead based upon the per capita and total taxes paid in a state or its number of Congressmen? I would imagine my friends in Arkansas wouldn't like my home state of Washington having federal subsidies disproportionate to our relative handle. And for sure, a transparent federal registry for horse blood and naming would make more democratic sense than the secretive cloister of The Jockey Club, right?

Be careful what you wish for, Jockey Club. You might get it.

Instead, I would suggest that if The Jockey Club really wants to lead, it instead endeavor as an "agent of change" to work with the many disparate groups within the sport to develop agreed-upon scoping of the issues to be addressed, and an agreed-upon timeline to accomplish agreements. My guess--and it is only that--would be that most would conclude that the currently evolved and bargained system of wagered dollar splits, and horse valuation at auction, and localized governance over localized issues, while generally painful in all directions, reflects the impacts of capitalism, and is about as good as it is going to get. Solve the medication issues, not by absolutism and dogma, but by a genuine concern for the equine athlete and the humans that come into contact with them, and probably 99% of what can be fairly accomplished will be accomplished. Oh, and by the way, if anyone truly believes that medication is the bane of the future existence of racing, they are incompetent thinkers.

As Mr. Violette states, quite clearly, racing has no commissioner. As he points out, there is no one to directly tell The Jockey Club " to shut up."

I am not that commissioner, but I will say it--shut up. You certainly do not speak for me, and I do not believe that you speak for racing across America. (Remember The Pledge?).

9 Comments

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sceptre

I agree with almost all of what you, and Mr. Violette, have expressed. I, too, felt disgust with The Jockey Club's (and others) attempts to use, inappropriately,  the PETA revelations in furthering their misguided efforts to ban race-day Lasix, and other proven + race-day therapeutics such as GastroGard, and the like. Clearly, their motive is not the well-being of the horse, but at best, only the well-being of the sport. Where we may depart concerns this very subject of horse safety/well-being. I have been a breeder/owner for over 50 yrs., and have witnessed very little improvement in matters concerning racehorse welfare. Oversight continues to be severely lacking-the horse remains at the mercy of his owners/handlers. Racing has consistently failed to reasonably protect them in this "harms way" sport. So here, some form of oversight "agency"/? governmental body is sorely needed. But first they must be properly "schooled"-and therein lies the greatest obstacle.      

02 May 2014 9:57 PM
Fred and Joan

You sir must not have had the experience of exercising DEAD lame thoroughbreds at a walk, on the track at a gallop. We have had this experience, and remarkably the horse we were exercising was through the shots given to the horses right knee was able to participate in a race and pass the post and stay sound for two weeks! This occurred right here in the Northwest at one of the major tracks. The same trainer also utilized shock wave therapy on another of the horses in training EVERY DAY for two weeks right up to the day the horse was in a race and broke both legs nearly killing the jockey riding the horse. This was not that long ago and we feel race horses deserve more protections and a centralized authority with enforcement powers and whistle blowers protections to workers in the industry. We are small breeders also, and have had  MUCH better opportunities OUT of the Northwest with our home grown sires and broodmares horses. Thank goodness for the people of California and the southwest states providing our horses an opportunity to race and win at tracks such as Del Mar and place at Hollywood Park and at odds of 69/1. Bring on NO drug racing and training! Implement stricter rules and regulations enforced on a federal level and standardized with some flexibility towards varying and local conditions.  

03 May 2014 8:08 AM
BelmontBarb

I too, agree with you.  And it is appropriate to say "Shut Up" to the Jockey Club and lets get down to business in a respectful and caring manner to all and keeping the equine population in focus first.  The simple word "Club" always struck me as something I would never want to join. Most "Clubs" do not make differences but enjoy the benefits.  As the word "oversight" (ref: Sceptre posting 5:02:14) does describe the failing trend of "horse safety and well-being" it is quite disturbing to think that there is so much talk with so little action.  Mr. Violette has shown great sense and intelligence in his comments and issues that call for attention and certainly not another government take-over.  Yes, you are correct - this is not an "industry" - it is a business - a very BIG business and the government that is not concerned at all about the welfare or "well-being" of our prized equine would thoroughly enjoy reaping the equine world of every cent and dollar as they strip it down to the lowest of turf grades with policies and procedures and infiltrations that will give more control and will give the government the hold and the dollar so hard worked for by these thoroughbred performers and those that are part of them in so many ways. The deal would be in their favor and nothing will change - and as a result as they make more it will be at the expense of the thoroughbred, owners and breeders and trainers, jockeys and all else resulting in a default and de-funct "business". The stress on all would be great and surely it would be a disaster and a disgrace if it were to go in that direction. What else should we hand over to them!    As for the "Jockey Club", they need to get their act together and focus a bit on the concerns and stop with the threats because of a "PETA" activists group that would take your dog away from you.  No, we will not allow or stand for abuse and over medication - so simply get the facts and if proven guilty remove those that do not abide permanently - (did anyone ever hear the term "BANNED")that would be a real good start.

Threat tactics of "drawing the line" is not an indicator that the "Club" can handle its responsibilities and spells "defeat" instead of "desire" to make things right. How disappointing that is.  No commissioner! They should show their strength and smarts and have one.  Surely - it should be a horseman!

04 May 2014 10:17 PM
KY VET

How many words does it take to say nothing! Get to your point! Did you say anything? Is this another "i care about animals more than anyone else article? How about this.......let the TRAINERS TRAIN......let the OWNERS OWN.......And let the JOCKEYS RIDE!!!!!!!   Everybody else.......Shut the ---- up!

04 May 2014 11:55 PM
Fred and Joan

What happened to our comment stating true life experiences we wrote on derby day? We are also long time subscribers and wrote of our experiences exercising race horses and the abuses we witnessed, such as shock wave therapy and joint injections administered to unsound horses so as they would pass a paddock viewing before being raced. We wrote the TRUTH and expect that the B.H. would show HONEST comments written also by small breeders and owners in the Northwest and again thank goodness for all those trainers who gave our horses a chance to race in the Southwest and in California at better tracks than are available to us locally. We are ALL FOR no race day medications and STRONG penalties against trainers who try to keep owners happy by racing unsound horses. Bring on NATIONAL unification of rules administered and enforced by a national commissioner or even the federal government.

05 May 2014 4:21 PM
Mary in VT

If there is anything that your industry can do to prevent it, federal oversight of horse racing is to be avoided at all costs. The feds are currently screwing up hobby dog breeding beyond your wildest dreams by applying facility requirements designed for enormous puppy mills cranking out dogs with a pure profit motive to hobby breeders with 4 or more breedable bitches that are artists in dog flesh purely dedicated to preserving the historical breeds of dogs in their homes with no expectation of ever making a dime at it. These new facility standards are so prohibitively expensive and go so far beyond anything required to raise children in this country that many a fine bitch is being spayed just to avoid oversight. Failure to perform can carry up to a 10K fine for a second offense. Just one example; no cob webs. Second cob web can cost you up to 10K. Not kidding. Ok, two examples. 180 degree water even if it presents a risk to your children and grandma. And in a check-mate move the USDA hired a tough as nails former Humane Society of the United States litigation attorney to head enforcement. Hello? Don't go there. Do not go there. You can not even imagine how wrong federal oversight can go under the HSUS friendly Obama Administration. Thankfully, there is an injunction effort that has been granted standing trying to get relief in the courts. Case No. 1:13-cv-1982.

13 May 2014 10:56 PM
sceptre

If KY Vet and Mary in VT are typical examples of those in the racing industry, no wonder there is need for greater oversight-outside the industry. The US government may/or may not be the best overseers, but the horse industry has PROVEN that they aren't up to the task. So, KY Vet; "let the owners own; Let the trainers train; let the jockeys ride" is precisely what has been-AND IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Too many injuries, too many breakdowns, and too many lousy conditions for the horses. Make it better, make it much better, or end the sport.

14 May 2014 1:43 PM
sceptre

KY Vet:

Let the cattle, chickens, pigs....all be inhumanely treated and butchered; and no one should dare speak up.

So, is this also your credo?

14 May 2014 9:56 PM
sceptre

Mary in Vt:

Apparently, you don't agree with what is considered to be proper standards for the breeding, care, and raising of dogs (?or other animals). Well, that's just too bad-and is the reason we need such standards. It's about time that the lawmakers finally came to the aid of the non-voting animals and began affording them some protections from people like yourself. There are far too many humans who consider animals nothing more than objects of possession. Care for them properly, or leave them alone. Why should you, or any one individual be allowed to freely judge what is proper care? Apply that premise to most anything else, and see where you get. Not too different from Ky Vet's-"...let the owners own, let the trainers train..."

15 May 2014 10:16 AM

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