Illinois Owner, Racing Board Member Kathy Byrne Joins WHOA

by | 09.12.2015 | 9:15am
Kathy Byrne and her son Willy at the Keeneland September Sale

Illinois owner, lawyer and racing board member Kathy Byrne has joined the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA).

Byrne issued the following statement regarding her decision to join:

On August 27th, 2015, while most of the racing world was watching American Pharoah prepare for the Travers, the Illinois Racing Board quietly entered a death sentence for 150 healthy, working racehorses. Euphemisms like ‘sold to the Amish or otherwise removed' were used to describe what would happen but the reality is that when Maywood Park shutters next month- without a placement plan or any regulatory supervision–the majority of horses racing there will not survive. I am a member of that Board and we are the state commission charged with medication policy and humane racehorse welfare. In doing what the Board thought best for the Industry, the Board couldn't do what was best for the horses. This is a stark, but not unique, example of why we need national oversight.

External, independent and unbiased oversight of horse medication and welfare is vitally and urgently needed. Illinois isn't unique. State racing commissions should not be responsible for making medical and drug decisions that govern the health and very lives of racehorses. There is an inherent conflict between regulating in the best interest of “the Industry” and protecting the health and lives of the one segment that makes the industry possible. The Industry consists of a variety of stakeholders whose financial interest is based on maximizing profits from racing. Racetracks want full fields to boost wagering. Horses must produce earnings or they become liabilities for trainers and owners. Doping horses is one way to fill the card, boost profits and keep the Industry healthy. When doping wears the horse out, or when bettors get disgusted enough to shun a track, the Industry cuts its losses. If a racing commission looks out for the interest of the Industry, it cannot simultaneously look out for the interest of the horses. The interests cannot be reconciled.

Not that states haven't tried, but it's a frustrating game of whack-a-mole. We have failed. In Illinois, we tried to adopt the medication policies advocated by ARCI; in fact, we have been trying for three years. We can't move fast enough. Any time a standard changes or a new drug is listed we must start the rulemaking process all over again. Rightfully and fairly, we must provide notice and grace periods whenever thresholds change. We give horseman and vets contradictory advisories, adding to the confusion. There's not enough money to properly test any substantial number of non-winning horses, which creates a huge incentive to cheat, because odds are you'll never get caught. Our lab promised, under oath, more than a year ago, it would become RMTC certified, but it's “still looking into it” – and it's the State lab so there's no political will to change. I'm tired of hearing the excuse that we'll lose horses to other states if we act boldly. I'm fed up with fear mongering and disinformation about ‘federal meddling'. Reality is that state commissions do not have the budgets, the structures, the expertise or the nimbleness to research and provide state-of-the-art regulation of a constantly changing pharmacology. Reality is that if the sport is to survive we need federal legislation to enable USADA to create and enforce new, uniform medication standards and meaningful penalties throughout American horseracing- thoroughbred, standardbred and quarter horses.

Petty political and personal power struggles are inevitable in our cloistered industry, but horses don't know politics or factionalism. Horses can't lobby for special interests or favored vendors. They may not know a certified lab from a corner drugstore, but our racehorses are the only constituents without a voice. To use a Chicago term, horses have no clout.

Racing's reputation is only as clean as its worst jurisdiction. We need to raise the floor-for everybody.

I am pleased to join the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) as a supporter of the Barr-Tonko Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015.

  • Hamish

    Well considered piece based on horse racing realities. “Raise the floor for everybody,” just makes a lot of sense.

  • Tinky

    Anyone who would like some broader context, here’s a good, and very sobering overview of the economic dire straights that the state of Illinois is in:

    http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.pt/2015/09/apocalypse-illinois-ious-projected-to.html

    This is not meant as any kind of criticism of Ms. Byrne’s admirable efforts, but rather to underscore that as state politicians around the country become increasingly desperate for revenues, racetracks that are reliant on subsidies will face ever bigger and more challenging problems.

  • youcantmakeitup

    I agree with this lady` views. You would think that with all the subsidies that this industry gets from slots, the horsemen ( HBPA) would go along with something that makes sense like having one USADA lab test all horses racing in this country. What are they afraid of? I can answer that myself and anybody with an IQ can too. There are too many so called horsemen who claim they love horses . If they did, they wouldn`t oppose this bill.

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