If you build it, they will come. This philosophy espoused in the well-loved baseball fantasy movie “Field of Dreams” was the approach taken more than a year ago when owners were asked to pledge to publish the vet records for every horse they entered in a graded stakes.
One hundred and thirty owners made this pledge. Their names are listed on the Horse Racing Reform (horseracingreform.com) website, which is managed by The Jockey Club and was launched jointly with the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
The concept was an extension of state law in 28 racing jurisdictions that already require vet records be submitted to state regulators for horses entered in all races. In some states such as Kentucky, however, these records are confidential. Let’s set that topic aside for another column.
United States racetracks offered 455 graded stakes that attracted 3,699 starters in 2014. By year’s end a total of 13 veterinary records had been voluntarily posted on the Horse Racing Reform website.
“It seemed like a noble goal without a clear process affixed to it,” said Jerry Crawford, manager of Donegal Racing, who signed the pledge but has not posted any records. “There are several barriers, too. For example, it is not something owners can do because they don’t have access to the information. So whose responsibility does it become? The trainer? The vet? Then there is the question of what you view as a vet record might not be what I view as a vet record.”
Because of the poor response last year The Jockey Club went back to the drawing board. It contacted owners to get feedback and improved the process to eliminate many of the manual steps that had been previously required, according to Matt Iuliano, executive director and executive vice president of The Jockey Club.
People can now upload images of vet records photographed with their smart phones. Owners can also designate a trainer to serve as their agent in uploading records, and an option to make records “available upon request” has been added in the event a record is not available prior to a race.
“We have also created a system that monitors horses entered in graded stakes and then sends an e-mail alert to prompt participation,” Iuliano said. “The e-mail includes a link that allows someone to upload any records right then. In addition, we have assigned a registry staff member to shepherd owners and trainers through the entire process.”
The renovated site was soft-launched in late April, prior to the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the May 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with an appeal to owners participating in these races to make their vet records available.
On May 3 one vet record had been uploaded, for Oaks contender Include Betty, who is co-owned by Airdrie Stud’s Brereton C. Jones and farm manager Tim Thornton. The vet records for Oaks winner Lovely Maria had not been posted due to miscommunication, according to Bret Jones, the son of Brereton Jones and manager of the farm’s bloodstock services. At Churchill Downs alone that weekend 134 horses had been entered in graded stakes. Among the owners of those horses, 23 had pledged to report their vet records.
“Going forward, we believe this is the right course of action,” said Bret Jones. “The set-up is a little complicated at the start, but once it is established and becomes second-nature, then we’ve run out of excuses. Any effort to be as transparent as possible is good for the business.”
Crawford said the program has value, but to gain better traction, he believes the goal needs a tighter focus. Rather than cast a wide net over all graded stakes, he suggests “test-driving” the program at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Supplying vet records could be included in the nomination process, and trainers and veterinarians could be required to sign affidavits to authorize the accuracy of the information being provided.
“There is a finite event that you could use to nail the program down,” said Crawford, a former vice chairman of the Breeders’ Cup board. “The Breeders’ Cup has already moved to out-of-competition testing and that is a valuable step. The Breeders’ Cup, I think, would embrace this because there is a genuine earnestness about the integrity of the event.”
A sophisticated notification and record-capturing system is now in place, so Crawford’s suggestion of using the Breeders’ Cup as a focal point is a solid one. By making vet records disclosure mandatory for participation, everyone’s information is out there and no owner will feel like the “volunteer” left standing alone after the rest of the line has taken a step backward.
Every good idea needs fertile ground to thrive. Plant this program alongside the Breeders’ Cup and it will grow.