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Medication, regulation hot topics at HTA wrap-up session

February 21, 2008

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A lively discussion on medication and regulation sparked the final day of Harness Tracks of America’s sixth annual joint meeting with Thoroughbred Racing Associations. The wrap-up program followed the gala “Night of Champions” banquet at which HTA bestows its coveted Nova Awards.


Ed Martin of Racing Commissioners International said that one of racing’s problems is that every horse in a race is not tested. He said that if samples were drawn from each horse in a race, even if not all samples were tested, it would be a deterrent.


“We want to catch the cheaters,” said Martin. “That’s our goal.”


Dr. Scot Waterman of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium reaffirmed Martin’s remarks and added that government implores horse racing to be a clean sport, but doesn’t provide the resources for adequate testing.


“We spend $30 million on testing a year,” said Waterman. “That hasn’t changed since 1991. That’s spread over 18 labs. That’s not enough money and that’s not an efficient way to spent it.”


Alan Foreman, an attorney with the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Assn., noted that the small number of positive tests for class 1, 2, and 3 drugs occur each year. He sees that as a good sign.


“I think the industry shoots itself in the foot too often,” said Foreman. “We don’t promote the integrity of racing. If racing promotes the negatives, there is no future for racing.”


Ontario trainer Ben Wallace said, “We’ve created a scenario when a trainer wins races, we begin to think he did it illegally. A good trainer is not always a trainer who has done something wrong. We tend to overlook that.”


Wallace continued by saying, “Research can be a dangerous tool in the hands of regulators. Regulators have jumped the gun and created negative publicity for racing.”


Dennis Dowd of the Meadowlands emphasized that economics dictate regulation in New Jersey because the tracks pay the racing commission costs in the state. He asked Wallace why trainers don’t report wrongdoings to regulators.


“It’s tremendous in theory, but it won’t work,” said Wallace. “It’s a joke to think it will work.”


Waterman spoke about the efforts of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium to get states to adopt its model rule to control anabolic steroids.


“The long-term, regimented use of anabolic steroids is bad for a horse,” he emphasized.


Another session on Wednesday covered new technologies and was titled, “Having missed the television boat a half century ago, will we be left to sink again without adapting to the new forms of communication?”


Eric Wing of the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. admitted that racing currently doesn’t do enough to entice young people.


Dave Johnson of Sirius Satellite Radio said, “Racing must use technology to bring passion to racing. People have lost interest in our game. Fewer eyeballs are looking at horse racing.”


Seth Murrow of Equidaily, a racing web site, said that he sees a lot of “old media thinking” when he looks at track web sites and he emphasized the opportunities that the internet provides racing.


Johnson admitted that satellite radio is “still a secret” and likened it to cable television in its infancy, but explained how Sirius has provided coverage for racing.


Trust in the pari-mutuel system was the topic of session in which major bettor Mike Maloney said, “The wagering security system within the industry is dysfunctional.”


He said that if the problems of wagering security were exposed, racing could not withstand the scrutiny.


“We wonder why wagering on racing isn’t growing, but there is more integrity in casino games than in racing,” said Maloney.


Phil Langley, president of the U.S. Trotting Association, said that racing must do a better job explaining to bettors why odds change after a race starts. He suggested closing betting 30 seconds before a race starts.


Maloney proposed the creation of a National Office of Wagering Security to serve as a “watchdog for bettors’ interests.”


He added, “This organization must have the teeth to enforce sanctions.”


Noted racing expert and instructor at Albany Law School Bennett Liebman spoke about the implication of the recent Mitchell Report about steroid use in baseball for horse racing.


“Steroid use in racing is rampant and has been for years,” said Liebeman. “Racing’s response has been slow and ineffective.”


He said that racing doesn’t have adequate funding for testing and may never have adequate funding.


“This sport is like a sitting duck for government investigation,” said Liebman.


The meetings were held at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg, Fla. Next year’s joint HTA-TRA meeting will be part of the Racing Congress on Feb. 2-5 at The Bellagio in Las Vegas. (Dean Hoffman for HTA)

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