US racing’s new Act the best chance for reform, Jockey Club boss says

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Racing in the US finally has its chance to “right our badly listing ship” following an emphatic showing of support for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) from Jockey Club Chairman Stuart S. Janney III.

In his closing remarks on the final day of the 69th Annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing,  Janney referenced the arguments made by groups in the racing industry that have stated their opposition to HISA.

“When the history of this is written, it will be clear who the obstructionists were and who opposed this industry’s best ever opportunity to right our badly listing ship,” Janney said. “I am proud to stand with those who support HISA, and I look forward to the needed reform it will bring to our industry and to seeing our ship finally sailing a straight course.”

Janney also announced that Len Coleman and Dr Nancy Cox, co-chairs of the nominating committee of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, had been awarded The Jockey Club Medal for exceptional contributions to the Thoroughbred industry.

Sunday’s event was held virtually and streamed on various platforms.

Stuart S. Janney III.
Stuart S. Janney III.

There were presentations from Charles Scheeler, chair of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority board of directors, and Dr Tessa Muir, director of Equine Science for the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Scheeler described the components of the authority’s work ahead, which include the establishment of an anti-doping and medication testing program and a safety program; constituency outreach; and using the industry’s plethora of data, much of which will be sourced from the Jockey Club’s databases. In advance of the implementation of HISA next year, plans call for the authority’s board and standing committees to publish proposed rules for public comment before they are submitted to the Federal Trade Commission.

“What I saw when [I looked at HISA] was a once in a lifetime opportunity to make the sport safer for horses and jockeys, to serve the overwhelming majority of horse people who want to win fairly and who want to play by the rules,” Scheeler said.

Muir spoke of USADA’s plans to work with the Thoroughbred industry, including leveraging expertise for both human and equine athletes to create best practices.

“Our aspiration is to establish and maintain a uniform and harmonized program that is centered on promoting and safeguarding the health and welfare of horses and protects the rights of all participants to race clean and win fairly,” she said.

Equine-assisted therapy and racehorse aftercare

Dr Yuval Neria, professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University and director of the PTSD Research Center, was joined by Dr Prudence Fisher, associate professor of Clinical Psychiatric Social Work at Columbia University, to talk about the Man O’ War Project, which was founded by Ambassador Earle I. Mack. It is the first university-led research study to examine the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy (EAT) in treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Neria described the findings as “extremely encouraging,” noting measurable changes in the parts of the brain involved in the capacity to seek and experience pleasure among trial participants. There were also decreases in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Plans call for the creation of the Man O’ War Center, with goals to train others in EAT protocol for veterans and expand the use of former racehorses for equine-assisted therapy work.

Kristin Werner, senior counsel for the Jockey Club and administrator of its Thoroughbred Incentive Program, moderated an aftercare panel with panellists who shared their perspectives on challenges in the aftercare landscape, from securing a safe first exit from the racetrack to placing retired breeding stock.

Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) executive director Erin Crady talked about the TCA’s Horses First Fund, which helps Thoroughbreds in case of an emergency.

“Plan, plan, and plan some more,” Crady said. If you’ve prepared a business plan for your racing operation, include a section on aftercare.

“Please remember one thing that I feel is paramount to your horse’s future. Make every effort to retire your horse while he or she is still sound. A sound Thoroughbred can have an unlimited future.”

MidAtlantic Horse Rescue executive director Beverly Strauss talked about the kill buyer market and the frequent social media frenzies when Thoroughbreds are offered for inflated prices to save them from being sold to slaughter. She warned that individuals and organizations that participate in these practices are often scams.

“If you’re contacted because one of your former horses is in a kill pen, do some research, don’t just throw money at it, don’t just send money blindly, do research and see that the horse truly is in a bad place and then ensure its safety,” Strauss said.

Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA) executive secretary Brian Sanfratello detailed the PHBA’s stance on aftercare and its creation of a code of ethics that will sanction those who knowingly send horses registered with the PHBA to slaughter.

“Our board understands that aftercare is just as important as making sure that we increase the numbers of mares bred,” Sanfratello said.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) vice-president of Equine Welfare Dr Emily Weiss focused on the work of the ASPCA’s Right Horse Initiative, which assists with placing horses in transition. She noted that a problem seen with placing horses is that Thoroughbreds are often not located where the demand for them exists.

“There’s some disconnect between the interest in the general public and getting these horses into their hands, and part of that is just getting those horses where those people are,” she said.

Using “social listening”

Emily Lyman, founder and chief executive officer of Branch & Bramble, a digital marketing agency used by America’s Best Racing (ABR), discussed how “social listening” online can be used to gauge public sentiment of horse racing and how highly publicized events can have a positive or negative impact on how the sport is viewed. She talked about how ABR’s marketing strategy is influenced by this data and that influencers can be effectively used as brand ambassadors to introduce new audiences to horse racing.

“Maintaining the status quo doesn’t protect a brand’s long term health,” Lyman said. “Without growth in impressions and public sentiment, your key audience will eventually die out.”

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