President's Message - August 28, 2014
Greetings to the members of the WHBPA.
We are now approaching the final month of the season, with the Longacres Mile now in the rear view mirror. My sincere congratulations to the Hours, the Ross’s, and the fine horse, Stryker PhD. It was a Mile with a seeming obvious outcome, which is a credit to the manner in which this horse was able to dominate the stakes racing season for older horses.
We are now approaching the final turn, and about to head “down the stretch” with our season. As I write this, two weeks ago, MaryAnn O’Connell, our Executive Director, and I traveled to Oklahoma City for the National HBPA Summer Convention, which lasted three days in the withering heat of Oklahoma. We were treated to night racing at Remington Park, which is yet another of the venues that I have visited with a “Racino” at the facility.
It is my view that while the “Racino” model has had substantial (but temporary) improvement to purses, it is not a model that can or will withstand the many challenges that it creates. While in Oklahoma, we learned that another state with Racinos driving the purses, West Virginia, is cutting purses and race dates due to both competition growing nearby, and yet another state legislature which wants to change the rules it established initially for sharing of the “win” from casino gambling to rob the purse accounts and support other programs. It is evident that in many states, the Casino companies – including giants Churchill Downs, Inc. and Penn National gaming – are far more interested in getting the “camel’s nose under the tent” to use horse racing as the basis to establish casino gaming with the promise of increased purse funding, but that their ultimate goal is to end horse racing, as it is comparatively far costlier to maintain 60 – 80 acres of facilities that provides the minority of contribution to profits versus the 1 acre or less of casino floor space that provides the majority of profits at any location.
Our Summer Convention featured a number of interesting speakers and topics, to include a keynote address from Ed Martin, who serves as the Executive Director of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, or ARCI. This is the body of state and provincial Commissioners across North America who regulate racing on a state by state basis. Mr. Martin made clear that he and his group are becoming very agitated with the elitist and unilateral manner with which The Jockey Club is acting in order to assert control over racing. For those who may not be aware, The Jockey Club has determined that racing should essentially not be supporting far-flung locations such as ours, and should instead become more concentrated in terms of quality racing, done on a basis of no race day medication. As the only race day medication allowed is Lasix, The Jockey Club – despite the scientific research which it funded resulting in findings that clearly prove that Lasix is effective in reducing the amount of bleeding in a performance horse during exercise – has taken the position that America will return its interest to racing in greater numbers if racing is advertised as fully “drug free” and on a “quality racing” basis. [The Jockey Club does not provide a listing of its 100 members, who are named “by invitation only,” but it is understood to be primarily a group of very rich people who seek to race horses at the highest levels within racing. While we would all like that outcome, few of us have the resources to buy the best broodmares or breed to the highest priced or most successful stallions. They do, and they want to set all of racing’s rules]. The Jockey Club, not happy with the general failure of racing to follow its demands, has stated that it will now seek to have federal government oversight of racing to compel national rules, which it will hope to guide, in the effort to ram something through Congress.
Needless to say, this could become a big fight, and if it does, I will enlist your aid in contacting your Congressional representatives.
We also heard from speakers representing a new organization, Racing Free (www.racingfree.com), which you can consider joining. They offer an interesting concept, which at present loses money for them, but meets their greater good. Originally started to incorporate Quarter Horses, due to a perception of too many drug “positives” being returned, it has been extended to Thoroughbreds as well. For a fee of $300 per horse per meet, or $1,200 per horse per year, the organization pays $1,000 per win(!) for enrolled horses who come back with a clean drug test. Since about 99.8% of our runners come back with a clean test, it seems to be a great opportunity to enhance the winnings you might make. Take a look at it.
We also heard an interesting presentation from a couple of geneticists, who informed us about testing that they are able to do that can predict probabilities of success in horses that have been bred. Frankly, the science and its ability to predict performance seems a bit scary to me, because if I were a commercial breeder of any size, I would be able (and inclined) to cull out from the horses I planned to keep the ones that would not be predicted to excel. Of course there are exceptional horses that outrun their pedigree, and there are horses that would be predicted to be “special” who fall on their face, but the clear implication is that statistically, by reading some genes from horses’ hair, they are able to make some very interesting and generally accurate predictions. This is not “nicking” and is far more powerful in terms of prediction of ability than that. The science is here, and is only going to become more accurate as their database grows and more tests are performed.
We had a forum on “Growing the Fan Base” which featured Keith Chamblin of the NTRA; Asif Hussain, who is building a new interactive product known as Equisight, which is intended to provide a viewer the ability to “direct” the watching of a race by switching camera views – to include cameras worn by gate crew members and jockeys – during the race to enjoy a preferred view; Stu Kirshenbaum, a television producer who provided insight as to how to best maximize the reach to viewers through the television product; and Mark and Daryle Ann Giardino, who have completed what they hope to be the first of five video movies about horse racing, titled “Behind the Gate.” [The NTRA likes to tout its commitment to horseracing handicapping tournaments, and reports growth in this area. The NTRA hopes that its growth in tournament play, which helps to fund its own activities, will ultimately boost interest in horseracing. Personally, I see this as circular, as the participants in horse race handicapping contests are already “in the fold” and to me, this is no more than preaching to the choir.] Each of the others is trying hard to make a difference to support and expand the interest in the sport that they love.
We heard from practitioners of alternative therapies, such as pulsed electro-magnetic therapies, acupuncture for horses, and osteopathy for horses.
Importantly, as always, we heard from a very august panel of veterinary scientists plus a forensic toxicologist who made clear that the push for certain changes in drug administration and withdrawal times, when not based on scientific evidence, exposes us to risks of environmental contamination as leading to “drug positives” that would be neither affecting performance in a horse, or evidence of any improper handling by trainers. While we all want to have both the reality as well as the perception be that racing is completely clean, it is a fact that our equine athletes, like human athletes, have injuries or infirmities that benefit from therapeutic drug use. And to protect each other – owners and trainers and the betting public - from cheating, it is completely appropriate to demand that our horses race free from pain masking agents or any other form of performance enhancing drug. At the same time, the Board of the National HBPA (and me, now having gone to many of these forums and listening to many stories which have impacted my view of what can go wrong) believes that drug limitations and withdrawal times (pre-race) should be based on science.
To that end, the National HBPA will continue to support the administration of race-day Lasix, which is scientifically proven, by a significant study (funded largely by The Jockey Club, which had hoped to find the opposite result) to reduce the incidences and severity of Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage, which affects pretty much any working horse, to include Quarters, Barrel racers, and others. Having owned several bleeders, and having started a two year old two years ago without it and found him to bleed, I personally believe that providing a horse with Lasix is the correct thing to do for the horse. Dr. Paul Morley, one of the primary designers and seminal study on Lasix and bleeding, and the author of more than 110 peer-reviewed scientific papers, indicated that the evidence supporting Lasix use in working horses remains undisputed, and told us how a “Blue Ribbon" panel of medical and scientific members had recently reviewed all studies involving Lasix, and that there are no supportable studies that indicate Lasix is not beneficial to the working horse.
Looking to the future, our region needs to recognize the diminished horse population and work toward maximizing what we do have. I note that Portland Meadows made an appropriate choice to move its season to that end, and I would hope that Emerald Downs and Hastings Park will finds ways to work cooperatively to share dates and horses to maximize our opportunities to run in larger fields, draw greater handle, and enhance purses. We will work to that end, while hoping that the improvements that we see in the broader economy will lead to added breeding and investment by owners in this area.
We will be having a general meeting in September, at a date and location soon to be announced. I am hopeful that you will attend, and join in the conversation.
Best of luck as the meet comes down the stretch!