Claussen: Texas racing industry stands united in the face of adversity

by | 07.04.2012 | 10:58am

It's tough to get a smile out of very many Texas horsemen these days. They continue to fight an uphill battle for legislative changes for  racino revenue that has fueled purses in bordering states Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. There have been recent national news stories on drug violations, and indictments handed down involving the powerful Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas.  That brought some scrutiny on  money laundering with ties to prominent Texas horseman and veterinarian, Dr. Charles Graham and his grandson, Tyler.

Many owners, trainers and breeders keep a stiff upper lip and hope that this too shall pass. But some are downright angry at the continued negative assault on the racing industry.

Judd Kearl, who trains both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, began his career in Utah,  but made the move to Texas in 1997. He runs his horses in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Iowa and Louisiana, but his primary focus is Texas.

“These days you just don't hear any positive news about racing,” said the 37-year-old conditioner. “Even when I'll Have Another was gunning for the Triple Crown, the media was more zoned in a drug test from two years ago that had nothing to do with the Derby and Preakness winner.”

Kearl has been one of the leading trainers in Texas and has a solid group of owners who want to see racing thrive. The public deserves to hear a different side of the story on Texas horseracing and breeding. There are some facts that have not been presented in an entirely accurate fashion, and merit explanation.

Dr. Charles Graham

Last month, federal indictments were made public citing 14 defendants of laundering money through racing and the purchase of horses at yearling sales.  The investigation suggested that  millions of dollars from the Los Zetas cartel have been involved in transactions with prominent Elgin, Texas veterinarian Dr. Charles Graham. 

The reality is that neither Dr. Graham or Tyler are under investigation in the Zeta case.  They are fully cooperating with the Federal Government, and authorities are paying them a per-day stabling cost for the horses in question.  As for the suspicion surrounding the Grahams spending top dollars on horses in the sale ring, it is not uncommon for any professional livestock buyers to  act as agents of sale when purchasing high-end horses. This practice is common and the same as the arenas of sale for luxury automobiles and boats, art, large parcels of land and a number of other goods.

Furthermore, Dr. Charles Graham has been one of the most respected individuals in Texas breeding, ranching and racing.  A graduate of  Texas A&M University, and  member of the Distinguished Alumni, Dr. Graham is the Past President of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, Texas Quarter Horse Association and President of the American Breeds Coalition. Dr. Graham has been named Most Worthy Citizen and Agriculturist of the Year in his hometown and Horseman of the Year by the Texas Thoroughbred and Texas Quarter Horse Associations. He has been inducted into three Hall of Fames: American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Industry is Well-Regulated, Both Statewide and on a National Level

The Texas racing industry has stringent measures in place to ensure integrity, honesty and compliance with State and Federal laws.

Bill Childs, a Texas Racing Commission spokesman, explains the mission of the Texas Racing Commission in protecting the integrity of all breeds of horseracing.

“The Racing Commission regulates all aspects of pari-mutuel horse racing through licensing, on-site monitoring and enforcement,” explains Childs. ” To secure a license, an applicant must submit to background checks run through the Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All owners, trainers and backside personnel must secure a Commission-issued license, as must the tracks and many of their employees”.

The public may have no ideas how deeply involved Commission employees are at each Texas racetrack. During a live meet at least 10 state regulators are onsite.

They include three state stewards who maintain general authority and supervision over the conduct of each race and all licensees. Two Commission veterinarians work together to inspect every animal every day before races begin. Test barn staff members collect and send blood and urine samples for drug testing. A Commission investigator investigates violations of the Act and rules. An auditor audits every dollar that flows through the pari-mutuel wagering system. The Texas Racing Commission also operates an onsite licensing office.

Texas is a leader in the nation regarding its strict policies on medication or other substances present in a horse participating in a pari-mutuel race. The Texas Racing Commission is completely open with the public about violations and offenders.

“There are a number of ways the public can find out about actions the Commission takes against licensees who violate the Racing Act or the Commission's rules,” adds Childs. “The Commission posts rulings on its website and at the track where a violation occurred. Additionally, the public can request rulings directly from the Commission through the open records process.”

On a national level, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) places the health and safety of  equine and human and the integrity of the sport of horseracing as its top priorities. The NTRA established the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance to uphold those objectives. Members include racetracks, owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, sales companies, veterinarians, breed registries and other associations involved in the racing industry. The NTRA has a long-term association in Texas with Class 1 racetracks including Sam Houston Race Park in Houston and Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.

“Integrity is a crucial, non-negotiable element of the American racing and breeding scene,” said Mike Ziegler, Executive Director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. “Texas, with its long-standing devotion to the horse, is an important and valued part of that scene.”

Texans Livelihood at Stake

Texas has horse farms throughout the state,  and from breeding to showing, roping, reining and horse racing, the equine industry has a significant economic impact on the Lone Star State. Thousands of Texans make their living in the equine and racing industry, which contributes over five billion dollars to the state's economy.

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA),  located in Amarillo, Texas, is the world's largest equine breed registry and membership organization.

AQHA officials posted the following statement on their website in response to the recent allegations involving Quarter Horse racing.

“AQHA's foremost concern in this matter is the welfare of all horses involved.  Given that the judicial process has clearly just begun, AQHA does not yet know what the outcome of today's events will be or how the events might impact AQHA-related matters.  We will closely monitor the developments in the case and will work with members, if any, that may be impacted by these unfolding events.   The alleged actions of the individuals referenced in the Times article are not representative of tens of thousands of AQHA members, horse owners and trainers who participate in this popular, regulated and family-friendly sport.”

Bob Gaston and his wife, Jerry of Seguin, Texas, have been involved in Quarter Horse racing and breeding for over three decades. They take tremendous pride in watching their foals take their first steps and make the transition from wobbly newborns to racing champions. The couple bred Double Down Special who won the 2010 All American Derby and Bodacious Dash, who captured the richest race in Texas, the $1 million Texas Classic Futurity.

“It's no secret that racing has its problems, like many sports,” said Bob Gaston. “We need to take care of them and restore the confidence of the public in our sport. But as breeders and owners, we will never tire of the feeling of total joy when one of ours performs to the best of their ability on the racetrack. Jerry and I are still amazed at the beauty and power of our horses, and love to share the experience with friends and family.”

Headlines drive the news and sadly, often the public does not read beyond the first paragraph or glaring message implied in a front page story.  The racing industry has been under attack, but there are thousands of breeders, owners, trainers, grooms and racetrack employees who work tirelessly in an industry they deeply love and respect.

Martha Claussen is a freelance writer who has been prominent in the Texas racing industry since 1997.

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