by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

It's become something of a tradition in Kentucky politics for newly elected governors to dissolve the regulatory body for horse racing and create their own racing board. It's something Brereton Jones, Ernie Fletcher and now Steve Beshear have done.

Governors in most other states are content to merely fill racing commissions with their hand-picked appointees as terms expire. In Kentucky, where horse racing is the number one industry and racing commissioners can wield considerable clout, there is more of a sense of urgency by governors and their allies.

The downside to this maneuvering is continuity in the regulation of the sport, and this latest iteration by Gov. Beshear to dissolve the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority and create the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission left no indication as to whether people like John Veitch, the chief steward for racing, and executive director Lisa Underwood have job security in the new regime.

There was good work being done by some members of the KHRA, and we can only hope that it will not go by the wayside. For example, one of the Authority members who was not retained on the new board, Franklin Kling, put considerable time and effort into issues related to wagering security, particularly past-post betting, or perceptions of past-post betting. It is common now, because of delays in communications from wagering hubs to the host track, for odds to change midway through a horse race. Clearly, the tote systems are not on par with the technologies in place for online banking and securities transactions, and there remains the potential for fraud and pool manipulation.

Many horseplayers are concerned that bets are being made after the start of a race, and some racetrack executives privately fear the same thing. There have been instances in Kentucky where that's happened on simulcast races, and professional horseplayer Mike Maloney was brought in by the Authority to advise them on the issue. The latest example appears to have occurred at Philadelphia Park recently, when the Scientific Games totalizator system malfunctioned, allowing simulcast bettors at Tampa Bay Downs and possibly other locations to place wagers during and after the running of the fourth race June 28.

Kling provided at no cost to the commission information technology personnel from his company to examine the issue of tote communications and past posting, and according to sources there was progress in that area. This is a serious issue that needs attention, and there is no reason to discard the work that Kling and other members of a wagering security committee have done.

Fortunately, the man who advised Gov. Beshear on the appointments to the new commission, Thoroughbred owner-breeder Tracy Farmer, is a sharp and highly ethical individual, knowledgeable about the industry, and perceptive about what the public expects from a regulatory body. Farmer and his wife Carol have been strong supporters of horse rescue and retraining operations, something that many people in the industry have ignored for too long.

The commission includes some members whose background does not appear to have any connection to racing and is probably nothing more than political patronage. However, the retention of attorney Robert Beck as chairman was a wise move, as was the appointment of several people with both knowledge and experience in racing matters.

One example is attorney Ned Bonnie of Louisville, who is an expert in the medication field, having helped develop regulations for the sport horse world. Bonnie has been involved in numerous industry committees and has strong opinions about cleaning up the game. His involvement in the Thoroughbred industry goes back many year and includes a close friendship and association with the late Kent Hollingsworth, the esteemed, longtime editor of Bloodhorse magazine whose “hat, oats and water” mantra Bonnie had emblazoned on a sweatshirt that he frequently wore while jogging.

Farmer appears to have advised Beshear to balance the board with diverse views. Trainer John Ward has fought for tighter restrictions on medications while heading the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Frank Jones has been a voice for the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which tried to keep Kentucky's permissive medication rules intact. The inclusion of a veterinarian, Foster Northrop, is another move that will diversify the board's makeup.

The best news came on Wednesday, when the new commissioners were sworn in, and Beck and Farmer indicated that they intend to pursue regulations for anabolic steroids.Steroids have been one of the sport's dirty little secrets. There will be efforts to keep their use legal in Kentucky, and some veterinarians may say that their use benefits the health and welfare of the horse. But public perception is very important, and right now horse racing is losing that battle in a very big way. It's time for steroids to be banned: period.

The political tradition by newly elected Kentucky governors to dissolve racing commissions and create new spots for political supporters can lead to problems. Fortunately, the people involved in the process in 2008 have the best interests of racing at heart.

Let's hope there is a seamless transition. People who regulate Kentucky racing should be looked upon as national leaders. That hasn't always been the case.

By Ray Paulick

Copyright ©2008, The Paulick Report


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