US Jockey Club may seek federal control of race meds

Ogden Mills Phipps
Ogden Mills Phipps

American racing should not need an animal rights organization or a major publication to identify “bad actors or their bad deeds”, the chairman of the US Jockey Club says.

Ogden Mills Phipps was commenting in response to an undercover investigation  by the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the results of which were reported by the New York Times on March 20.

He warned that his body may push for federal controls on the industry unless state racing authorities pushed on with the tighter medication rules it had championed for several years.

Peta’s inquiry resulted in racing authorities in New York and Kentucky launching investigations into top trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant at the time, Scott Blasi.

“Many of us in the thoroughbred industry are eagerly awaiting the final determination of these issues by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission,” Phipps said.

“It is my hope that these state bodies use all the prosecutorial powers available to determine if there is evidence of animal cruelty, medication violations — and cheating.

“Like so many others, I was upset by what I read in the Times and disgusted by what I saw and what was alleged in that PETA video. Any person abusing a horse or caught with an electronic stimulation device like the one described in the video should be banned from the sport for life.

“And as much as it pains me to see our industry being denigrated in the media, there is another part of me that feels that we, as an industry, deserve every bit of that criticism because the sport’s rules and our penalties have not been effective deterrents.”

Phipps acknowledged there had been some encouraging actions from racing commissions, citing a series of fines and suspensions since 2011.

“Owners, trainers, veterinarians — and really anyone who makes a living in the thoroughbred industry — need to speak up any time they witness improper and dangerous treatment of horses or dishonest activity.

“We certainly shouldn’t need an animal rights organization or a major publication to identify bad actors or their bad deeds.

“All of us should feel a personal and professional duty to police this sport and immediately report any wrongdoing.”

Above all, there must be respect for the horse, he said.

An image from the Peta undercover video.
An image from the Peta undercover video.

The Jockey Club, he said, continued to believe that horses should compete only when free from the influence of medication, and it supported reforms that make up the national uniform medication program first proposed in 2011.

However, only four of the 38 states with racing have fully implemented the national uniform medication program thus far – Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia.

A dozen others were in various stages of “adoption”, but have yet to commit to a definitive implementation date — often because of the simple fact the bureaucratic process can be painstakingly slow.

“While there is no doubt that some of those shown in the March 20 video deserve condemnation for their actions and their attitudes, representatives of states that have not adopted the national uniform medication program should also shoulder blame for the current state of affairs.

“Their inaction feeds the negative perceptions of our sport and lends credence to the charge that we are incapable of broad-based reform.

“For every small step forward — whether it’s a televised racing series, a marketing tour, or new owner and new fan initiatives — we take two giants steps backward when prospective fans, owners, television networks, sponsors, elected officials or animal rights advocates read and see media reports that convey inhumane treatment of our athletes and a lack of integrity in our sport.

“Enough is enough. The horses deserve better. Owners and trainers deserve better. And in a sport based on the integrity of competition, certainly fans who wager their hard earned money deserve better.”

Phipps said The Jockey Club supported the medication reforms on a state-by-state basis, but the clock was ticking. If the state-by-state approach failed to produce the needed changes, the organisation would look to alternative avenues, such as federal legislation, he warned.

“The draft legislation proposed by some federal lawmakers involving the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is a highly attractive model. The USADA has the experience, the knowledge and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.

“The time to draw that proverbial line in the sand is rapidly approaching and The Jockey Club’s Board of Stewards plans to do that no later than the 62nd annual Round Table Conference on August 10, 2014.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we will carefully assess the progress and the status of the national medication reform campaign.

“If the major racing states have not implemented these reforms, The Jockey Club will reach out to federal lawmakers who have previously proposed federal legislation for our industry and to other supporters of this approach.

“We will aggressively seek rapid implementation, including steps leading toward the elimination of all race-day medications.

With the safety of our horses, the integrity of competition and the general perception of the sport all at risk, we cannot afford to wait any longer.”

The chairman of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA), Louis Romanet, commenting on the PETA inquiry, said his body encouraged US racing regulatory authorities and law enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned in their investigation of these matters.

“Two key missions of the IFHA are to ensure the quality and fairness of racing in the interest of both the breeding and the public and to provide the organization on racecourses of the protection of the welfare of horses, jockeys and the people attending.

“Any matter that is a threat to these fundamental ideals must be promptly handled by the appropriate regulatory authorities.”

He said the IFHA fully supported its North American colleagues who sought a comprehensive national reform of medication rules, laboratory standards and penalties.

“The adoption of a national uniform medication program is paramount to the reform of medication rules in North America and demonstrates the value of regulatory authorities working together to harmonize racing rules.”

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