Tick Tick Tick - by Eric Mitchell

Thoroughbred racing has made progress drafting and promoting tougher sanctions for medication violations across all racing states through the Uniform Medication and Penalty Model Rules.

These proposed rules, drafted by the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium and the Association of Racing Commissioners International, do include tougher penalties for both trainers and owners, uniform laboratory testing standards, and uniform medication thresholds.

Under the proposed penalty system, for example, a trainer who has his first positive from Class 1 and most Class 2 drugs, which include the most powerful painkillers and substances most likely to influence the outcome of a race, could get a one-year suspension and a fine. A second offense could result in a three-year suspension and a fine while a third offense carries a minimum five-year suspension and a minimum fine of $50,000. If the case involves aggravating circumstances, the fine could rise to $100,000 on the third offense.

Losing your livelihood for a year on a first offense should certainly get a lot of trainers’ attention.

The model rules also include new penalties for owners. Whether it is offense number one or number three, the owner will always lose any purse money and his horse will be disqualified. On the first offense for a Category A penalty (involving largely Class 1 and Class 2 drugs), the horse that tested positive will be ineligible to race for 90 days and then must pass a commission-approved examination before being declared eligible to race. On the second offense the suspension is 120 days, and 180 days on the third offense.

While all this effort is laudable, the issue of uniform adoption still faces huge obstacles. To date, four states have taken no action toward even considering the new rules—Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Colorado. So even if every other racing state besides these four were to embrace the new rules fully, horse racing in the U.S. still would have a regulatory patchwork.

And yet to be determined is whether the new rules ultimately provide true deterrence against cheating.

Horse racing may not get the chance to find out.

The stonewalling by these four states, even though a small minority among 38 racing states, reinforces the biggest criticism against Thoroughbred racing—that it lacks the ability to police itself thoroughly and the collective will to implement real change when necessary.

Horse racing is only slightly better off than the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee in the 1990s. At that time these organizations had no uniform policy on violations, on what was being tested for, the procedure for collection and chain of custody for samples, and varying sanctions for rule violations. What changed the Olympics’ course was the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA. This private organization created a uniform code, which was drafted and revised multiple times in an open and transparent process. The code has since been adopted by 520 sporting organizations and 172 governments.

“There is no reason why this same effort could not be done for the horse racing industry in the U.S.,” Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, told a U.S. congressional subcommittee back in 2013. The USADA was formed in 1999 because the U.S. Olympic Committee realized it could not police itself.

Drafting tougher rules is great, but every racing jurisdiction and every association must buy into those rules. Meanwhile, everyone’s patience with the sport is threadbare—owners, regulators, and fans.

Oversight by a national organization, perhaps the USADA, may be the only way to right horse racing’s badly listing ship. Such a change will elicit bitter and angry cries of protest, to be sure. But look around at what little real reform we’ve accomplished. It’s not like we haven’t had the time.



Leave a Comment:

Chip Pitfield

Suspending an owner's horse isn't the same as suspending an owner. If you really want to fix the industry, start suspending owners. When a guy has 10 horses in training and he can't run any of them after a positive test, he'll get pretty choosy about his choice of trainer. I'd respectfully suggest that the industry is trying to fix a problem by fiddling around the edges. This is partially because of the multi-jurisdictional nature of the industry, but it's also because (I fear) the industry knows that some of its most successful trainers and owners wouldn't last a month.

01 Apr 2014 12:10 PM

Well said, Chip, I couldn't agree more.

01 Apr 2014 12:40 PM

You are obviously not an owner. I think this proposal sounds fair. If my trainer gets one bad test, that's enough for me to change trainers.

01 Apr 2014 1:03 PM

Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Colorado would get on board quick if all horseplayers refused to wager on races from their states.

01 Apr 2014 3:32 PM
Needler in Virginia

Too right the clock is ticking, and it really is about time. But how's this for an idea? For those states which don't want to regulate what the rest of the planet seems to think needs regulating, how about they lose parimutuel privileges? Racing is, after all, an interstate business, which gives several fairly powerful agencies oversight. Just cut 'em off. Then they can explain to the voters why they have to cross state lines to watch and wager......... just a thought.

But well said, Eric. The gorilla in the room is getting larger, and because the various parts of racing can't seem to agree on anything other than that racing still involves horses, the end result is obvious and FAR too long in coming.

Cheers and safe trips.

01 Apr 2014 3:42 PM

Thank you Chip Pitfield. If racing would look at this as a fresh start it might yet have a future but sweeping uniform reforms must take place not in a few states but all.There is the saying it must get worse before it gets better, well we're there! Now let's get it done starting at the very top. Call it trickle down ethics.

01 Apr 2014 9:42 PM

Chip Pitfield, is right on! Maybe he would make a great great oversight chairman!

02 Apr 2014 8:03 AM

"Losing your livelihood for a year on a first offense should certainly get a lot of trainers’ attention."  This punishment may work for the smaller trainer but unfortunately, the big name trainers get around this "punishment".  They are already spread out and offsite anyway with assistant trainers.  They just have their assistant trainers continue on with their string of horses, entering under the name of the assistant if needed.  It does NOT penalize the trainer's livelihood which is why they continue to repeat.  Owners are at the trainer's mercy.  They do not know what the trainers are giving their animals.  Penalizing the owners for something that the trainer's chose to do may cause owners to move their animals as Chip indicated, but the real culprit is still the trainer who essentially walks away and sucks in the next "victim" owner and horse continuing to repeat with positive tests. It is a deliberate gamble that these trainers continue to make because they know that they can effectively get around the so called "punishments" if caught.  

02 Apr 2014 8:16 AM
lysa slater

Very well stated.  This issue is very much in the forefront of late and rightly so.  It is an embarrassment to the great sport of horse racing that the United States is unable to do what other countries have done.  I imagine it is most likely true that the implementation of an organization like the USADA will cause lots of dissention and complaining but it's not as if there has been no warning.  BTW, I live in Florida and shame on my state!

02 Apr 2014 9:24 AM

Police itself? Talk about ignoring a historical red flag. Anytime that phrase is used, it should cause immediate intervention.

Wth does an owner know about? Clearly the trainers are responsible for the horses.

02 Apr 2014 12:25 PM
Your Only Friend

Those states that do not conform....conforming  states should not let horses from those states run on their tracks.....when non conforming states/owners/trainers cannot run for BIG RACES/BIG PURSES....hopefully states  will change their minds.

02 Apr 2014 1:12 PM

I say suspend them all: Owners, Trainers, Assistant Trainers, Jockey's and Jockey's agents, stewards, vets any and all involved including track owners. They all have a vested interest and if it is going to taint the industry, it needs to be policed and cleared of all accusatory action. My dad always said,' if it ain't on the up and up you shouldn't wager' and he knew bull Hancock.

02 Apr 2014 4:20 PM

There have been serious efforts at reform, including the uniform rules, but guess who steps in and calls a halt, it's the trainers.  It has been reported that the reason trainers have this power is because of the unfortunate language of the 1978 Horseracing Act, in which the word "horsemen" was used to give veto power to any rules changes to the "horsemen", which trainers have insisted just means them and no one else.  I would love for someone to go back and chronicle the progression of this school of thought and how this interpretation was allowed to stand. Back then, I'm pretty sure the word "horsemen" encompassed all industry stakeholders -- the only possible reason to put such language in the Act in the first place.  It is hardly reasonable that back then the trainers held sway over all the other stakeholders. The Owners, Breeders, and even a few trainers have supported getting rid of raceday meds, and the Breeders Cup was all set to implement their plan when the trainers groups threatened to withhold simulcast rights from the event.  Some say the Breeders' Cup caved, but when someone threatens to kill your business, do you have a real choice? What needs to happen is to simply change that one word in the 1978 Act to include all industry stakeholders.  The Breeders Cup, the Graded Stakes Committee, and others would be ready to pick up the baton and finish what they started. I bet the "stakeholders" would all be ready to join with the WADA to further tighten testing and strengthening the rules, not to mention getting rid of the legal drugs on raceday.

06 Apr 2014 6:40 PM

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