One Step Forward - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the September 8, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell Too often conducting the people’s work results in sneaky business.

We saw an example of this Aug. 27 when the Interim Joint Committee of Licensing and Occupations, a Kentucky legislative subcommittee, discussed and voted down nine regulation amendments that had been endorsed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. These amendments had not been included in the committee’s agenda. The vote was a blind side orchestrated by the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which reportedly lobbied lawmakers during the previous weekend to push for a vote. Of the 20 legislators present for the meeting, all but one, Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, voted to find the regulations “deficient.”

The goal, according to Kentucky HBPA president Rick Hiles, was to derail further progress on a proposed ban of race-day furosemide (also known as either Salix or Lasix) use in graded and listed stakes within the state, which would be phased in over a three-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2014 (see The Blood-Horse, June 23, page 1755). The problem, however, is that none of the proposed regulations the committee voted on affected the ban.

What was on the table was a package of amendment changes that had been recommended by the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council. They included a requirement that only state vets be allowed to give furosemide on race day, prohibited the use of adjunct bleeder medications (which are of questionable effectiveness anyway), and lowered the allowable threshold of phenylbutazone from 5 micrograms/milliliter to 2 µg/ml (most horses racing in Kentucky test at or below the 2 µg/ml already). The changes had been discussed for more than a year in more than 10 public meetings, had been unanimously approved by all relevant KHRC committees, and then were endorsed unanimously by the racing commission.

The subcommittee in its rush to action found the new regulations deficient but didn’t say why and didn’t table the vote until the problem areas could be clarified. Instead, the committee just voted them down one week before they were to take effect.

Fortunately, Gov. Steve Beshear acted quickly and overrode the committee’s vote Aug. 30—putting into effect regulatory changes a majority of the racing industry endorsed (see page 2490).

If the Kentucky HBPA was out to make a statement, it certainly achieved its goal, but it wasn’t the statement it probably hoped to make. The association now looks like a blatant obstructionist rather than an industry partner trying to shape the best outcome for the horse and the sport as the state wrestles with reform.

...Two Steps Back

Clearly politics continues to stymie efforts to give Illinois racetracks the authority to operate slot machines.

Gov. Pat Quinn recently vetoed the latest legislation that would have allowed five new casinos—including a resort-type casino in downtown Chicago—and slots at the racetracks. The issue, according to the governor, is a lack of oversight for the Chicago casino. Apparently the Illinois Gaming Board wouldn't have the same regulatory authority over the Chicago casino as it does all other casinos. We’re not sure how it’s possible that casinos within a state can operate under different regulations. Even Thoroughbred racing has uniform rules within a state’s boundaries.

Something else is at play here. Quinn had the option of amending the legislation and adding the tougher ethical standards he sees as essential, but he didn’t. Legislators have offered follow-up legislation, if the initial law was signed, but Quinn rejected those too saying he would rather get all the legislation signed at once.

Quinn also added that more money from the expanded gambling initiative needs to go to public education. Ah, maybe this is the true sticking point.

Between the ever-shifting political landscape in Illinois and the startling wake-up call issued by the Ontario provincial government, which is ready to shut down most racetrack casinos, we can’t think of a clearer message that racing's future won't be bright if it is tethered to casinos. The long-term solution is for racing to build up and sell its own product. 

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