From long before sunrise to well past sunset Sept. 25, activities took place on the grounds of Keeneland Race Course that should have a ripple effect on the future of Thoroughbred racing in North America.
Out on the track a little after 5:30 a.m. was James McIngvale’s Runhappy, who tore through the darkness on his way to a five-furlong work in :583⁄5. Last year’s champion male sprinter was enjoying his final prep for his 2016 debut in Churchill Downs’ Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) Oct. 1. The hope is that race will springboard Runhappy to the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).
Runhappy is one of a handful of the sport’s genuine stars that race drug-free—the way McIngvale and trainer Laura Wohlers want to play the game.
“I’m not any type of equine specialist, but I just think that if you look at the statistics, it (Lasix) lowers the number of career starts,” McIngvale told us last fall. “I think we’re living in a current age of authentic, real transparency and that’s where we want to be.”
Around 2:45 in the afternoon the Keeneland auction team rapped the hammer for the final time during the 13th and last session of the September yearling sale. Tomorrow’s runners, some 2,792 of them, were sold during the auction with most of the players feeling upbeat about the results regardless of the inevitable winners and losers of the auction arena.
By dusk it was Chris McCarron’s turn to speak about the future of the sport. The Thoroughbred Club of America’s Honor Guest for 2016, McCarron is just the second jockey to be so celebrated, joining the late Bill Shoemaker in 1982.
After running through his career, his big wins, his retirement from the saddle, and his starting the North American Riding Academy in Kentucky, the Hall of Famer and student of the game got to the tough love.
“The status quo is not working, folks,” he said.
“The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium came up with NUMP a couple of years ago, the National Uniform Medication Program,” he said. “The racing commissions just don’t want to do it. There are 38 jurisdictions and half of them have adopted this program. The exchange of information is right there at our fingertips. The Jockey Club came up with a wonderful program years ago called InCompass where the racing secretaries from track to track can share information such as vet’s lists. Yet you can take a horse from California that is on the vet’s list and run in Arizona. They’ll take the entry. It’s the same thing in New Mexico. This is ludicrous. In Oklahoma you can run a horse on Bute and Banamine (flunixin) the day they are in. It’s crazy.
“Uniform medication rules across the country are a must,” he continued. “I know most people in this room don’t want to let the federal government get involved, but we don’t have any other avenue. Every other avenue has been exhausted. Every other effort has just been pushed aside.
“To borrow, or amend, a slogan: ‘Drugs don’t kill horses. People kill horses.’ Hard, cold fact. There are a lot of horses out there running that shouldn’t be running, and the authorities in this business need to grab hold of the horns and do something about it…soon.
“I truly believe there is enough power in this room to cause some change to happen and for the good of the horse, and for the good of the participants, and the integrity of the game, something has got to give,” he concluded. “We are losing fans left and right. We are losing owners left and right.”
Runhappy, run hopeful, and run for change...all day long.