Greater transparency is needed over the medication records of thoroughbreds, according to US Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills Phipps. Phipps, in an open letter addressing issues in the fallout from an undercover investigation by animal advocacy group PETA into the practices of top trainer Steve Asmussen and assistant Scott Blasi, says his organisaion is pushing for reforms and the industry clearly “needs a new plan”. His open letter follows.
In the weeks since allegations raised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were reported by The New York Times, there has been no shortage of commentary in traditional or social media, and it seems likely that the dark cloud hovering over our sport will be there for the duration of our Triple Crown season.
One columnist recently suggested that the trainer implicated in the PETA video should stay away from the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks for “the good of the game.” I concur wholeheartedly.
Various investigations are still underway, but his presence and participation would indicate that it’s just “business as usual” in the Thoroughbred industry.
In fact, it is not — at least where The Jockey Club is concerned. We are working diligently on several fronts.
- We have provided input to the authors of the bill that was introduced last May (Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act – H.R. 2012), which would designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the independent anti-doping organization for horse races with interstate, off-track betting.
- We have also reached out to USADA to explore how that organization could partner with racing interests to bring about the needed reforms as proposed in the National Uniform Medication Program.
- At the same time, in keeping with our pledge, we are working closely with state-based racing regulatory authorities to improve medication rules, penalties and lab testing. Just last week in Tallahassee, representatives of The Jockey Club stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other industry colleagues, providing testimony to Florida legislators about the dire need for updated rules and drug-testing protocol in that state.
- We have reached out to racetracks to explore a greater use of “house rules” to keep unsavory horsemen away from their premises and their races.
- We continue to promote the confidential use of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau’s toll-free integrity hotline (866-847-8772).
- As we did last month, The Jockey Club routinely reports on the data we collect in the Equine Injury Database and we strongly encourage all racetracks to make public their own statistics.
- The Jockey Club also maintains vigilance by denying privileges of The American Stud Book to those convicted of committing an act of cruelty to a horse, those who have been found to have violated applicable racing authority statutes, rules or regulations relating to substances that have been classified by the RCI as Class 1 or Class 2, and those who have had three or more violations within a 365-day period involving substances of any RCI class.
When the Olympic movement created the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as the global body responsible for uniform rules and coordination of policies at every level, it created the WADA Code, which set forth the criteria for evaluating what labs were going to be allowed to test the samples and the standard for those labs.
In fact, WADA was the model for the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium’s (RMTC) lab accreditation standards, one of the main pillars of the National Uniform Medication Program.
In 2009, The Jockey Club, through our Thoroughbred Safety Committee, pledged financial support to RMTC for new national laboratory standards for testing, the implementation of a laboratory accreditation program, and a new independent Equine Quality Assurance Program.
Five years later, just two labs have completed the accreditation process and one lab has been provisionally accredited. As is the case with the uniform medication rules, other labs are reported to be “in process” with their changes.
Clearly, the Thoroughbred industry needs a new plan.
A connection with USADA — whether through a federal mandate or private association — would provide solutions to many of our medication regulation issues. The organization would bring independence, integrity and expertise to our sport.
In the meantime, there is something that can be done now. It can bring greater credibility to the races that define our sport, at a time when millions are watching. We would be taking a page from a protocol in place at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which, coincidentally or not, is among the leading jurisdictions in the world in wagering handle.
I propose that veterinary records of every horse entered in this year’s Triple Crown races be made immediately available. The New York State Gaming Commission does this, but only for a three-day period from the day of the race. I suggest a much longer period: 14 days.
In fact, that was the principle behind the 2013 recommendation of The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee to create a centralized database of all treatments and procedures administered to horses in training. A majority of states already mandate this kind of reporting, but there is spotty compliance and, with few exceptions, little public disclosure.
As I’ve said previously, enough is enough.
All of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and make sure we are doing all we can not only for the good of the game, but for the welfare of the athletes, the integrity of competition and the survival of the sport.
The disclosure of veterinary records would be a good place to start.