Commentary: Indictments Show Horse Racing’s Existing Regulatory System Is Not Working

by | 03.13.2020 | 3:23pm

It came as no surprise and, in fact, it was expected that in the wake of the recent arrests by the FBI the long line of individuals and organizations entrenched in their defense of the status quo would come forward with the usual litany of nonsensical assertions and rationalizations.

I work with several of these organizations on a daily basis and have come to value their viewpoints on many diverse areas of equine health, safety and aftercare. That is up to the point of what's needed to reform the United States' dysfunctional horse racing drug testing and enforcement system.

The 38th parallel in this debate separates those who believe the current system of regulation only requires a few tweaks to sufficiently keep pace with the endless line of threats to the integrity of horse racing.

On the other side are those of us who believe that a new model for medication regulation is critical to the survival of the sport. This includes an independent regulatory authority, free from conflict and with the intelligence, credentials, and wisdom in the principles of clean sport to regulate competition. We need a regulatory model that leverages the areas of the existing system that show promise while substantially reinforcing those areas where it is failing.

In the most recent defense of the status quo, I noted the following comments by opponents of medication reform and the Horseracing Integrity Act:

This is a bad news good news story … the good news is the industry is capable of rooting this kind of conduct out, they're able to deal with it and send a message of deterrence and I think that is the message here,” said Alan Foreman on Steve Byk's At The Races radio show on March 10.

His clear implications were that the state regulatory authorities where the indicted individuals were based somehow initiated these investigations with the FBI. Moreover, that somehow the state regulatory authorities have the expertise and resources to ferret out the bad actors and exorcise them from the sport.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 2016, The Jockey Club engaged the international private investigative firm 5 Stones intelligence (5Si) to critically analyze and make recommendations for improvement to the investigative infrastructure of pari-mutuel horse racing. Based upon evidence of criminal activity discovered during the investigation, 5Si recommended that federal law enforcement officials should be notified.

I had to replay Foreman's comments on At the Races repeatedly, each time with growing incredulity because of his testimony to Congress in 2018: “So the question therefore that has to be asked, is what is the crisis? What is the overriding federal interest that requires the federal government to cast aside the states in a sweeping takeover of a state sanctioned, state regulated industry that does its job well? The answer is there is none.”

The crisis is here, and illegal drugging has grown for years due to the lack of effective regulatory oversight by the states. As a result, a culture of cheating without consequence is allowed to thrive, and that culture denies the honest stakeholders and fans the level playing field essential to growing the sport.

Another vocal opponent of comprehensive drug reform and the Horseracing Integrity Act is Ed Martin of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), who wrote in the Paulick Report on March 10, “The severity of the allegations should come as no surprise. Illegal drug manufacturing and distribution, falsified veterinary records and prescriptions, fraudulent labeling, and illegal doping of horses have all been openly discussed at ARCI meetings in recent years as racing commissions moved to actively involve other enforcement entities and police agencies in efforts to utilize the full gamut of government authority to combat what we all knew was transpiring.”

I admire Ed's candid admission that discussions regarding the various illegal activities had at least occurred over the years within ARCI. However, what actions have resulted from those discussions that were related to the activities announced by the FBI on Monday?

Zero.

The ARCI and state regulatory authorities had little or nothing to do with the arrests and federal indictments. The fact is that a few industry organizations, concerned individuals, and progressive racetracks boldly chose to stand up for integrity, fairness and the health and safety of the athletes.

After years of opposition to medication reform and opposition to the Horseracing Integrity Act, the only thing that opponents can cling to in the wake of federal indictments is that “the system worked.”  Of course, that isn't true. The industry's system of medication control and regulation has been failing horse racing for years, and it needs to change.

The change we are recommending is an enforcement authority majority controlled by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), a proven anti-doping regulator of international prominence that understands the necessity of investigation in addition to testing. It was through tenacious investigation that USADA revealed the systematic and persistent doping in cycling that ultimately led to the downfall of Lance Armstrong. It is safe to say that USADA would bring the same dogged persistence to investigating wrongdoing in horse racing.

As noted, the investigatory network horse racing has relied upon for years is haphazard and uncoordinated. Horse racing spans more than 30 states, and a nationwide effort was required by the FBI as it investigated broad networks of individuals located around the country.

A single, nationwide, federally empowered anti-doping authority with congressionally granted investigatory powers is more necessary than ever. If you were an owner, trainer, jockey or bettor, who better would you want to safeguard our game?

Matt Iuliano is executive vice president and executive director of The Jockey Club.

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