What Good Is A Model Rule In Horse Racing If No One Follows It?

by | 03.21.2016 | 4:24pm

Imagine, for a minute, that the rules governing the National Football League were developed the same way as horse racing regulations.

During an annual meeting, personnel from the NFL league office would discuss and approve “model rules” for the game, then team owners around the league would be encouraged – but not required – to adopt them. We might have instant replay to help officiate games in Chicago but not in Green Bay. The Houston Texans may decide they don't want to follow protocol for concussions. The Seattle Seahawks could develop their own definition of pass interference. And the New England Patriots might thumb their nose at the league's “model rule” for inflating footballs.

That's how racing works.

On Tuesday, the Association of Racing Commissioners International kicks off its annual conference in New Orleans, La., and the first item on the agenda is a meeting of the Model Rules Committee.

This is a committee comprised of racing commissioners and executive directors of regulatory agencies from around the country. Here's how the RCI describes the committee's role:

“The Model Rules are all encompassing,” a statement on the RCI website reads. “They affect Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter horse and Greyhound racing. Regulatory entities are encouraged to adopt the Model Rules by reference as a way to enhance uniformity of regulation in a sport that has evolved to be multi-jurisdictional.”

Notice the word “encouraged” in that statement.


Committee members take their jobs seriously, crafting rules for specific aspects of racing. It might be to create a Model Rule for pre-race examination of horses, or the dimensions and proper use of a riding crop. The Model Rule could apply to wagering, medication regulations, licensing requirements or any other part of the game that is regulated.

Then, once the committee approves the rule it goes to the RCI board for ratification. Finally, individual state racing commissions are encouraged to adopt it.

I don't blame the people making up racing's Model Rules. They do good work, and the rules are sensible and serve a purpose. Sometimes, however, the people who serve on committees to develop Model Rules ignore them when they return to their regulatory duties in their home state.

Let's look at some examples.

In 2008, the RCI approved a Model Rule regulating the use of extracorporeal shock wave therapy. This is a useful therapeutic treatment for horses that also can be abused because of its lingering analgesic effect. If a horse doesn't feel pain, it is more susceptible to catastrophic injury, putting the life of the horse and rider in jeopardy.

The RCI's Model Rule prohibits horses from racing within 10 days of receiving shock wave therapy. It requires treatments be reported to the official veterinarian.

How could any state regulatory agency, in good conscience, not adopt this Model Rule?

Yet, according to a progress map published on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium website, 11 racing states – including Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania – do not have regulatory guidelines for shock wave therapy.

In 2007, the RCI approved a Model Rule for out-of-competition drug testing. Some form of this testing – the kind designed to catch blood-doping cheaters – has been approved by just 13 of 26 states, according to RMTC. Yet only a handful of those states are actually conducting out-of-competition testing, even though The Jockey Club has made grant money available for this specific purpose.

“The failure to follow through on out-of-competition testing is the most egregious example of noncompliance of an integrity-based model rule, ever,” said Joe Gorajec, a former member of the RCI's Model Rules Committee.

Gorajec, who served as executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission for nearly 25 years, is now working as a consultant for the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, an industry organization supporting federal legislation that would create an independent, non-governmental agency to oversee medication regulations nationally. The legislation, the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, would put the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in a position of responsibility, similar to its roles overseeing drug rules and testing of the U.S. Olympic team and other amateur and professional sports.

Even in two areas where the industry has patted itself on the back for progressing toward uniformity – regulation of anabolic steroids and creation of a National Uniform Medication Program – the RCI's Model Rules have not been adopted universally as written.

The RMTC map for anabolic steroid regulations – adopted as a Model Rule in 2008 – looks like a Christmas tree with 10 different-colored ornaments representing varying degrees of restrictions on this muscle-building and performance-enhancing substance.

And only half of the states have adopted the Multiple Medication Violation penalties – one of four elements in the National Uniform Medication Program approved by RCI as a Model Rule in 2013 (the three other elements being a two-tiered drug classification system, third-party Lasix administration, and RMTC drug-test lab accreditation).

There is some irony in Louisiana State Racing Commission vice chairperson Judy Wagner being the RCI's chairperson-elect at this year's conference, conducted in her home state. According to the RMTC map, the Louisiana Racing Commission has failed to adopt three of the four National Uniform Medication Program segments, and it has no regulations on the use of shock wave therapy. Louisiana has been an outlier in medication regulation for years before Wagner was appointed to the commission.

Gorajec, the former regulator who helped push many RCI Model Rules through the Indiana Horse Racing Commission during his tenure there, said the solution is easy. “Federal legislation known as Barr-Tonko is the cure for the many failures of model rule compliance,” he said. “Integrity and uniformity can be ours virtually overnight – if we want it.”

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