Can Jockey Club reforms overcome ‘confederacy of dunces’?
Just because a situation looks hopeless doesn't mean you should give up. That philosophy, apparently, is what is driving The Jockey Club and other supporters of medication reform in horse racing.
Many of the men and women who regulate racing at the state level probably had a good chuckle during Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., when medication reform was being discussed. The Round Table for many years has been a wish-fest, with an array of professional and sincerely committed speakers hoping and wishing for uniform medication rules and tough, across the board penalties for cheaters.
But when a call to action occurs in the shadow of a scandalous, epidemic outbreak of cheating, the likes of which has never before been uncovered by sophisticated drug testing, and the violators are continuing to ply their trade…well, I can't blame the regulators (and the horsemen who stick up for the status quo) for having a good laugh at The Jockey Club's expense.
I am talking, of course, about the frog juice or dermorphin positives in multiple states. Licensees who have been suspended in Louisiana are continuing to train their horses. Frog juice positives in New Mexico from more than two months ago have yet to have formal complaints filed. Additional cases in Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska have not been made public, and I'm starting to wonder if they ever will. And no one knows how many other states have either decided not to test for the hideous Class 1 drug or have “warned” their horsemen they will soon begin testing for it, as a certain “keystone” state has done in the past with other substances.
And not a single veterinarian or supplier of this drug has been fingered. It's almost as if the racing commissions are not interested at getting to the source of the problem. In fairness to one state, it is my understanding that the Louisiana Racing Commission is pursuing charges beyond the shedrows of the trainers so far named. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen.
So when racing commissions in multiple states refuse to crack down on cheaters using drugs that have absolutely no therapeutic use and whose only value is to enhance performance, how can we expect them to take seriously what was presented at Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table?
There is only one way forward, and that is to eliminate the all-encompassing power of state racing commissions. Whether it is through federal legislation that will mandate medication, drug testing and penalty guidelines (and then leave it up to the states to enforce the rules) or through the creation of a national oversight board, this is the only kind of change that will work.
Going from state to state and begging these regulatory “gnomes,” as former Churchill Downs CEO Tom Meeker once referred to them, is a recipe for continuing failure.
There are good people serving on state racing boards and commissions, but their efforts are overshadowed by the confederacy of dunces, if I may borrow a term from John Kennedy Toole, who are conflicted, indifferent or too ignorant to see that they are killing the sport they are supposed to regulate.
These dunces, along with the structure that perpetuates their power, make the outlook for uniformity hopelessly bleak. Thankfully, The Jockey Club, which may be the only organization in racing that is looking at the long-term prospects for the survival of this sport, has not given up the fight.