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?).

Recent Posts

What We're Reading

More Blogs