I listened to last Thursday's audio broadcast of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) meeting as it withdrew, by unanimous vote, as a member of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI).
I was an active member of the RCI for 25 years when I was the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission (1990 -2015). I served on its board of directors for several years during that time and was elected its chairman in 2008. With my experience, it is sometimes fairly easy to tell early on in a commission meeting how an issue will be resolved.
This one was easier than most.
The CHRB dispatched this item and the RCI in even-handed perfunctory manner. It was an issue, I could tell, that the board had lost little sleep over.
Several reasons were given to leave the RCI. I believe one reason mattered more than others.
One reason given was a change in the manner that grants automatic RCI board seats to large racing jurisdictions. California was displaced recently from an automatic berth, yet Rick Baedeker, the CHRB executive director, has been for the last five years and was, as of last Thursday's meeting, an active board member. Another reason given was a level of discomfort about being associated with an organization in which some member states regulate greyhound racing. Those are two good talking points, but no reason to leave the RCI.
It was also mentioned that the RCI was moving in a different direction than California on matters of recent reforms.
Now we are zeroing in on the crux of the matter.
Then Rick Baedeker said this, “The ARCI board has been pretty vocal in its support of the current use of Lasix throughout the industry. That also is at odds with the direction this board has gone recently and has talked about going further.”
Yep. Right there. That's it. Bull's-eye.
I can take a very educated guess on what Mr. Baedeker was referring to when he used the phrase “pretty vocal.”
I wrote about it last month in a column published by the Paulick ReportI called, “RCI's scare tactic press releases on Lasix ban: disingenuous, ill-informed and just plain shameful.”
The Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) had just issued a press release warning its member commissions that any attempt to ban the administration of race-day Lasix could lead to the inhumane practices of administering formaldehyde as a Lasix substitute and have horses denied feed and water for up to 24 to 36 hours prior to post time.
The release, issued on May 6, 2019, is titled “Commissions Put on Alert for Animal Cruelty Resulting from Furosemide Ban” and contains these passages:
“All racing regulatory commissions have been put on notice that the banning of voluntary race day furosemide administrations by some US racetracks or lawmakers is expected to encourage a return to practices deemed cruel, inhumane, or potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of a horse.
The ARCI also advised commissions that it is anticipated that some horsemen will return to a practice known as “Drawing and Muzzling”. This practice, common in Europe where race day furosemide treatments are also not permitted, denies a horse food and water for 24 to 36 hours prior to a race.”
Ed Martin, president and CEO of the RCI, appeared at the CHRB meeting in an effort to persuade the board to remain in the association.
On the subject of Lasix, Mr. Martin reminded the board of the current model rule, which permits race-day Lasix. He said that rule was going to be revisited due to the actions in California and the requests made by tracks all across the country. He stated it was his job to manage the review process, but that the decision would be made by regulators.
What Mr. Martin did not allude to, but what California regulators undoubtedly knew about, was his heavy-handed attempt to discredit California's Lasix ban in an effort to lessen the possibility of this reform being established across the country. That strategy might be successful when other jurisdictions consider a Lasix ban. But it came at a price. RCI lost one of its most high-profile members.
You can't poke your finger in someone's eye and expect them to just sit there and take it.
Will others follow?
Imagine you are a racing commissioner in one of the dozen or so states that will be considering a ban (partial or otherwise) on Lasix. Maybe you are predisposed to the ban, or maybe you will wait to decide once you hear the testimony from the tracks, horsemen, veterinarians, and the public.
What will you think during the testimony when you are told by someone waving an RCI press release that if you approve a ban on Lasix then racehorses will be denied food and water for a day or more before they race?
You would expect the RCI to remain neutral. The last thing you would expect would be for your own trade association to undermine your reform efforts, especially with unsubstantiated, inflammatory rhetoric.
You would ask yourself, “Do I really want to be associated with this organization? Is it prudent to spend state tax dollars on such an association?”
You might also think, “What a horrible mistake it was to stoop to scare tactics to influence my racing commission.”
It's not a mistake if you have an agenda and the scare tactics work.
Former Indiana Horse Racing Commission executive director Joe Gorajec is a consultant whose clients include Horse Racing Reform, an industry initiative led by The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
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