US racing national drug policy would be “an economic monster”

John Messara is the recipient of the 2019 Longines and IFHA International Award of Merit.
Australian John Messara has spoken out over drugs in racing in the United States. © Arrowfield Stud

Drug policies were a hot topic in the latest round table conference on horse racing in the US, with calls for the industry to unite on important matters to create a “level playing field”.

Among the speakers at the Jockey Club’s 67th Annual Round Table Conference was John Messara, the owner and chairman of Arrowfield Stud in Australia, who spoke of the positive impact that uniform drug policies in the United States would have on the Thoroughbred industry.

“I think that having a national drug policy would unleash an economic monster in America,” Messara said. “It is difficult for us in Australia to judge if we should buy a mare or stallion from the US because we do not know if it received medication. Rather than get bitten by it, we stay away.

“I would appeal to American horsemen to join together. The [Horseracing Integrity Act] would be a great base for the future if you can get it through. It will create a level playing field and make the sport more international.”

Messara’s comments came during a Q-and-A session with James Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club.

Jockey Club vice-chairman William M. Lear Jr.
Jockey Club vice-chairman William M. Lear Jr.

Jockey Club vice-chairman William M. Lear Jr explained the Horseracing Integrity Act and how it would create a private, independent horse racing anti-doping authority responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program. Lear announced that the bill has 137 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and said its passage is in the best interests of the horse racing industry.

“This legislation is founded upon the unremarkable proposition that the regulatory authority should not be controlled by those being regulated,” Lear said, “but instead by independent persons with deep knowledge of and experience in the sport but with no conflicts of interest and nothing to gain or lose personally, including financially, as a result of the regulations adopted.”

Welfare concerns aired

Valerie Pringle, the campaign manager for equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States, spoke of how her organization works to improve equine welfare through support of legislation including the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which would ban the slaughter of horses in America for human consumption and ban their export for slaughter, and the Horseracing Integrity Act.

Dr Nancy Cox, the dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment for the University of Kentucky, detailed the university’s efforts into working with the Thoroughbred industry to improve track surfaces. Plans call for the University of Kentucky to invest in enhanced technical support, an endowed professorship dedicated to racing safety, and research into technologies to better maintain track surfaces.

Stuart S. Janney III, who serves as chairman of The Jockey Club and presided over the conference, announced following Cox’s presentation that The Jockey Club’s board of stewards voted on Saturday to support certain capital improvements to the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, including a provision of new software for its database management and field equipment to increase its fleet to more adequately cover the country.

Janney’s remarks included the latest recommendations from the Thoroughbred Safety Committee, which call for centralized electronic storage of all veterinary treatment records and elimination of the use of the riding crop for encouragement, including new penalty guidelines for breach of the rule.

David Fuscus, the president and chief executive officer of Xenophon Strategies, compared how Equifax and Capital One responded to recent crises, what they did well in their actions, where they failed, and how these events compare to horse racing’s current public relations crisis following the large number of fatalities at Santa Anita Park this year. He noted that the key principles of effective crisis communications strategies are engagement, transparency, responsibility, and meaningful action.

“Define rather than be defined, exhibit fast self-disclosure, respond directly to customers, and undertake public-facing actions to ensure it never happens again,” said Fuscus.

Janney also announced the addition of four individuals to the Thoroughbred Safety Committee: Dr Rick Arthur, Jim Lawson, Tom Robbins, and DG Van Clief Jr.

The conference, which ended on Sunday, was live-streamed and a replay is also available.

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