When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill into law last month creating a new racing commission to regulate both Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, the existing commission was immediately dissolved.
Wolf, other political leaders and horsemen's organizations have 60 days from the Feb. 23 signing ceremony to fill the commission's nine seats. After that is accomplished, commissioners will hire separate executives to oversee regulations for the two breeds.
Their work can't start soon enough, as far as I am concerned.
Pennsylvania has had a multitude of problems with its regulatory oversight of racing. For starters, the old commission was in dire straits financially because funding was derived from in-state live handle, something Gov. Wolf said has declined by 71 percent since 2001. The new law establishes a revised funding formula.
The old racing commission hasn't had a full-time executive director since 2013. Walt Remmert, who was made acting executive secretary, is also the director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards. His job there is to make sure amusement parks have proper safety inspections (a 2013 report said the Bureau fell short) and that a gallon of fuel pumped at a gas station measured up to a gallon.
Trust me when I say that regulating Pennsylvania racing requires a full-time commitment.
For example, Pennsylvania racing watchdog Linda Dougherty shed light on an incident from Parx Racing last Sunday on her Twitter account (@PAThoroughbred) involving jockey Edwin Rivera's use of the whip.
Rivera rode the 6-year-old mare Forgetthefantasy to a last-place finish, beaten 16 lengths, in a $7,500 claiming event that went as the day's eighth and final race. The Equibase chart footnotes read: “Forgetthefantasy, wide while just off the early pace, dropped back on the turn, began to bear out nearing the stretch, drifted wider racing into stretch, was put to, what appeared to be, rather excessive and severe right-handed whipping nearing the three-sixteenths pole, she continued to fall back and then despite dropping back to list, she was again whipped strongly, two times, on her right shoulder, when nearing the wire.”
When I first saw the video of jockey Rivera's actions, I thought this surely must be a violation of the rules. But Pennsylvania's Rules of Racing have exactly one regulation for the whip: Rule 163.193 (Use of Whip) states: “Whips may not be used on 2-year-olds prior to April 1st.”
And that's it.
We have no way of knowing if stewards called the jockey in to discuss this incident, or whether he has been sanctioned in any way. Rulings are not published on the commission or racetrack website and stewards do not talk to the media. Last fall, following another incident involving whips, a Daily Racing Form reporter was told by one of the stewards that it “was Pennsylvania Racing Commission policy for the stewards not to discuss racing matters with the press.”
Other states are reforming rules regarding use of the whip. Not because of pressure from animal rights organizations, but because it's the right thing to do. It is time for Pennsylvania to do the same.
Why does this matter? Why should anyone but the handful of people who follow Parx Racing throughout the year care whether or not Pennsylvania rules are lacking or its regulations lax?
Racing is only as strong as its weakest link.
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