Jockey Club Round Table: Focusing on Integrity

by | 08.11.2013 | 4:12pm
Stuart Janney

There was talk about the new Fox sports network and horse racing's growing presence on television, along with the outreach made by America's Best Racing “brand ambassadors” affiliated with The Jockey Club, but the main focus was on integrity and medication issues during the 61st annual Jockey Club Round Table Conference held Sunday in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

For years, the Round Table served as an opportunity for other racing organizations to talk about their efforts to improve the economics of the sport, but as the failures mounted, Jockey Club stewards decided they'd had enough and concluded it was up to them to lead on issues they felt were of the greatest magnitude.

As such, The Jockey Club enlisted business professionals from the outside world, consultants like McKinsey & Co. and the market research company Penn Schoen Berland to better understand the nature of American horse racing's challenges and how best to address them. Rather than influence decisions, The Jockey Club has taken the bull by the horns, investing in television, first with a series on NBC Sports in 2012 and expanding that with a major presence in 2014 on the new Fox Sports 1 cable network that goes into 90 million homes beginning next Saturday.

The Jockey Club is trying to lead the way on medication reform, even though it has no authority and can only influence policy through public pressure, education, and financial support of certain programs.

Building on to its support of the now 12-year-old Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the more recently formed Thoroughbred Safety Committee, The Jockey Club is pushing for advancements in several areas related to integrity. Specifically, the Thoroughbred Safety Committee is recommending that all veterinary treatment records of racehorses be entered into a database and that testing shift from standard protocol (depending on the state, it is generally winner, beaten favorite, random selection in each race) to “intelligence based criteria.” Jockey Club vice chairman Stuart Janney said horse racing must follow the lead of other sports and greatly expand its out-of-competition testing program.

“(Out of competition testing) plays an increasingly important role in doping control as organizations and regulatory authorities try to combat the growing sophistication of substances that enhance performance,” said Janney. “It can be a powerful deterrent and, in our sport, it is a perfect bookend to post-race sampling.”

Janney pointed out that the 2012 and '13 Kentucky Derby participants were tested out of competition, along with recent Breeders' Cup contestants and this year's Wood Memorial and Belmont Stakes runners. Yet by The Jockey Club's estimates, only 1,000 such tests are done each year.

The Jockey Club is committing up to $250,000 annually in 2014 and 2015, through the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, to increase that number, focusing out-of-competition testing on Graded stakes races.

While horseplayers may feel that all races should be subjected to out-of-competition testing, Janney said Graded stakes “are the most important races in the consumer market and with the most prominent horses competing, these races are potentially the most impactful to the Stud Book.”

The additional funding will only be used if the out-of-competition tests expand beyond blood-doping and look at anabolic steroids and all Class 1 drugs. Janney said the testing must be done at labs accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. The only labs currently accredited are the University of California-Davis Kenneth L. Maddy Laboratory and HFL Sport Science Inc. in Lexington, Ky.

Janney's recommendation followed a stunning report from Rob Green, a partner in the public opinion firm Penn Schoen Berland (they were the pollsters who helped get Bill Clinton to the White House). Green's presentation reflected the importance of doping and integrity issues to horseplayers, especially those wager the most.

Green's company surveyed 816 “committed bettors” – many of them described as “big fish” or “whales” (in betting parlance, those who wager huge sums) and found that drugs and integrity outpaced excessive takeout and industry leadership (or lack thereof) as the most pressing issue they see.  The results led him to conclude, without any doubt, that drug and integrity concerns “directly damage” the economics of horse racing in the U.S. “Drug and integrity issues lead horseplayers to bet less,” he said.

Among some of the results of the survey:

— 86% of the biggest bettors avoid certain tracks and states because of concerns over medication/integrity

— 79% of horseplayers factor in illegal drug use when handicapping races at certain tracks

— By a margin of 9 to 1, horseplayers say they bet less, not more, because they have to factor the possibility of illegal drug use

— 91% of horseplayers are “tired of waiting” for medication reform and want it now

— 82% of big bettors want to see all drug testing results published, 79% strongly support out-of-competition testing, and 73% think a horse's attending veterinarian's name should be made public.

That's how deep the suspicions of doping run, that the biggest bettors believe knowing the name of a horse's vet will help them cash a bet.

As Janney said after Green's presentation, those who ignore the survey results are “numb, delusional, or possibly both.”

Eclipse Award-winning journalist Ryan Goldberg, the son of a former trainer, in many ways represented the views of those horseplayers during his presentation.

Goldberg co-authored a highly acclaimed series of articles on medication and racing for the Thoroughbred Daily News and said the overuse of therapeutic medications is just as much a problem as illegal doping.

Using information from a New York Task Force Report on the rash of fatal injuries at Aqueduct last year, Goldberg asked, “Why would a trainer inject the knee with hyaluronic acid six days before a race, and give dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, and Bute 48 hours before post time? Or in another case, DMSO, Vetalog, Vitamin K and Liquamycin, 48 hours before a race, then Bute and electrolytes the day before? Or separately, give 24 separate injections of 9 different drugs in three and a half weeks?

“This was one of the big takeaways for me,” he added. “In American racing there is no clear distinction between where therapy ends and competition begins. And that needs to change.”

Goldberg said he wants more transparency on what legal drugs horses are given and what the test results show.

“If racing is 99.9 percent clean – as some argue – then show me,” he said. “Publish who is tested, what they were tested for, what type of test was used, and what the result was – not just pass/fail.

“Most importantly, make medication records public. It's been done before: NYRA published the records for the Belmont Stakes runners leading up to the race. Why not every graded stakes? How would the public, and journalists, and animal-welfare groups, react to seeing this information? I believe that transparency like this would stop excessive drug use in its tracks.”

Goldberg talked about the efforts of Jeff Gural, who is running the Meadowlands harness meet with an iron fist in an effort to clean up the sport. Gural has hired a private investigator who understands racing and makes unannounced visits to training centers to collect out-of-competition samples. The samples are tested at the best labs in the world. Gural kicks suspected cheaters off the track.

Handle at the Meadowlands has since soared.

“Except Gural is an island,” he said. “No harness tracks have reciprocated his exclusions. And he said not a single Thoroughbred executive or official has called to pick his brain.”

In closing remarks, Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills Phipps said, “Clearly our wagering handle and our business are being compromised. We know that congressional leaders are frustrated by the speed of our reforms, and if we don't get our own house in order they will do it for us.”

  • PTP

    Some good common sense things said today. If horsemen groups or other alphabets whine about it (you know a lot will), get them out of the way now, so they don’t block change later.


  • Barry Irwin

    More positives than negatives at The Jockey Club Round Table and it ended on a very hopeful note.

    • Right then, Right now

      Maybe new Jockey Club steward John Harris can update the Round Table on his unique version of cleaning up drugs in racing: “the rules don’t apply to me or my trainer!”

  • Craig Brogden

    Interesting that the Island that the Kentucky regulators were worried about when trying to ban Salix last year is actually more successful as Gural has shown at the Meadowlands. Time for the big thoroughbred states to join him on that Island. $$$$$$$$$$$

    • Barry Irwin

      Gural is a very admirable guy.

    • takethat

      “Gural, who is running the Meadowlands harness meet with an iron fist in an effort to clean up the sport. Gural has hired a private investigator who understands racing and makes unannounced visits to training centers to collect out-of-competition samples. The samples are tested at the best labs in the world. Gural kicks suspected cheaters off the track”

      Is Mr Gural going to apply the same standards to the scheduled TH meet at the Meadowlands in the fall? I hope so. In fact I hope he replaces the turf course with a synthetic track and they race there more often over the winter.

      • johnnyknj

        No TB meet at the Meadowlands. We’re staying at MTH.

  • Eric Poteck

    The cone of silence on lack of Integrity and Transparency in Horse Racing has officially been lifted today.
    As the only sporting game that recognizes and derives direct revenue from wagering, it MUST become a leader (not a follower) in issues relating to the Integrity and Transparency of the game if it is to have any chance of becoming creditable in the public eye.

    • nu-fan

      Eric: Excellent comments and observation. The transparency factor is extremely important and, I hope, will be effective. The public, generally, does have a negative view of horseracing. This needs to change and I agree fully with you that the horseracing industry needs to take a leadership role instead of being coerced with legislative action. Now, we need to see what actually happens. Talk is one thing but action is the proof. As a fan, I want to see this sport revive itself instead of furthering its decline.

  • Sal Carcia

    I am not a whale, but I did take the survey though. Maybe, I was in the under-reported minnow section. The survey asked if I thought drugs were bad. And I answered: “Yes”. I do. Then it asked if I avoid tracks and races where drugs are prevalent. And I said: “Yes”. This is partially true. Then it asked if I lower my play because of drugs. And I said: “Yes”. That might have been a lie. My point is the survey was leading me in a direction. I am not certain it could be concluded that drugs are the biggest problem the game faces based on that survey. It was a forgone conclusion of those doing the survey.

    • nu-fan

      Sal….You are very intelligent in noticing the biased survey that you were handed. It wanted to lead you to the conclusion that the survey folks sought. Creating survey forms are very difficult, even for those who do this as a living and honestly. So easy to manipulate (even accidently) the survey so that it has neither validity nor reliability.

      • Sal Carcia

        When I took the survey, I felt I was not given a real opportunity to express what I thought was wrong with racing. Drugs are an issue; so I basically told them what was obvious. Do I think drug use is the most important issue that negatively affects horseracing? NO! To me, it’s the quality of racing and the lack of focus on the customer.

        • Yes, the trouble with surveys is you can only answer the questions they ask. But it’s all tied together, if drug reform starts, other reforms can more easily follow. Breaking the concrete under the runners, so to speak, gets the thing moving at least.

    • Charlie Davis

      Exactly. While I do agree that drugs are an issue, and that integrity is an issue, I don’t think drugs are the biggest issue. It was a sneakily structured survey, which led to the results they are now touting.

      Not saying that I disagree with the end results; I’m all for better testing, penalties, etc. I just think drugs is only 1 of several major issues and I hope the rest of the issues aren’t glossed over because of the way the survey was structured.

  • betterthannothing

    I was very impressed by Ryan Goldberg’s speech.

    Of course racing needs transparency. Most of all, horses and jockeys need serious, trust-worthy, life-saving transparency, not some unverified “transparency” of equine medical records provided by the same vets who prefer to medicate behind their privacy-shield and are willing to misuse drugs to mask injury and boost performance despite their practices contributing to the endangerment of horses and riders.

  • SusanKayne

    All well and good, articulate and to the point…BUT how can anything be regulated without consistent and equitable oversight and sanctions? In NY, the Gaming Commission turns a blind eye to violations even when confirmed by administering veterinarians. Unfair to bettors, worse for horses.

  • biggar

    How do 79% of horseplayers factor in illegal drug use when handicapping races at certain tracks? Some of these survey results seem strange to me. I’m completely in agreement with the intent of the Jockey Club described here, but I think the “Whales” can take care of themselves.

  • Paul

    It’s no secret that many successful trainers have a veterinarian as their most important ally especially where owners have the means and are willing to pay the price of aggressive pre-race treatments typified by stacked doses of NSAIDs, inter-articular injections, muscle relaxants, oral corticosteroids, vitamins, serums and of course race day Salix. When treatment regimens like this become everyday norm as they are with some of the most successful trainers in North America, the line has been crossed from purely therapeutic administration to treating for the singular purpose of affecting racing performance. Timing and intent of administrations will generally define the difference between the two. All too often today misuse and over use of medications especially in the immediate days before a race are at the heart of racing’s drug culture.

  • Ben van den Brink

    Plain and simple; state horse racing should be writing out races primed to clean racing. Getting the benefits from the PR, and the rest will follow suit. Maybe kentucky is able to go in the lead with it seen de Derby next year free from Lasix

    • Lem

      Here you go again. You all got together, and you all said the right thing’s that people wanted to hear. And you all published it in writing. How many more times are you all going to do this, before you all do something about it? I’m talking live action. Let’s get some proposal’s together and you all get it done.

    • Janet delcastillo

      It would be great to have a level playing field…I feel like the guys that were pedaling furiously behind Lance Armstrong…its a tough time to try and play fair!

  • 4Bellwether666

    The Fed is going to have to do it for them…Period…

  • Ed Brockman

    It is just more bovine scheisse. They can have all the symposiums, round tables and committees that they wish, but they do nothing of real consequence to change or eliminate the lack of integrity that exists.
    Could the state regulators do more? Could the Jockey Club do more? Of course they could, but they choose not to. They fear what repercussions it might have. It only takes one individual to threaten a law suit and they run for the hills. Look at the related situation with the Breeders Cup.
    Those with money and/or a position of influence are instrumental in determining what happens, and they effectively communicate again and again that they have little regard what the betting public thinks or is concerned about.
    These people seem to be content with the status quo or some changes would be made.

    • johnnyknj

      “While horseplayers may feel that all races should be subjected to
      out-of-competition testing, Janney said Graded stakes “are the most
      important races in the consumer market and with the most prominent
      horses competing, these races are potentially the most impactful to the
      Stud Book.” ”

      I’m trying to parse the meaning of that and it seems the JC is saying that we’ll try to keep our races relatively clean, while for 99% ( anything other than a graded stake ) anything goes. Gotta protect the Stud Book, you know. If there has been a clearer self-indictment of racing’s so-called leadership, I have not seen it. Reminds me of Ted Knight character in “Caddyshack” : “There’s no cheating at Bushwood!” God save us from the gentry.

  • fb0252

    did JC or some org. do a study just a year ago identifying the # of intentional cheating violations at around 1%?

  • Mimi Hunter

    Would be nice if we got ‘a little less talk, and a lot more action’

  • Horseradish

    I got a link to participate in the poll in the Horseplayers Assn of North America (HANA) newsletter, so I filled out the poll. Maybe HANA’s membership was the whole sample. I think I could have filled out the survey multiples times if I wished. I didn’t.

    Even though I agree with the Jockey Club’s stance, I thought the poll was a clumsy, obviously biased exercise that looked like one of the polls that come with advocacy groups’ fundraising letters, Everyone knows they just want your check, not your answers to obviously leading questions. The poll was that bad.

    The poll results do reflect my own opinions and I’d be shocked if a real poll of horseplayers would yield very different results. But this poll was nonsense and Penn & Schoen should be ashamed of itself for presenting it as a legitimate public opinion sampling.

    The case for cleaning up the sport is a winner on the merits and I wish the Jockey Club hadn’t gone this route in its advocacy.

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