Many participants and fans have a poor opinion of the regulation of horse racing in the United States.
While there is much to be critical about (I write about it all the time), much of the negativity stems from a regulatory structure that has 30-plus power centers across the country as each state racing commission’s authority is limited to its provincial borders. This has led to a wide variance of competence, commitment, and funding among states. Add to this mix differing rules, policies, and interpretations, and it’s easy to understand the frustration of those who rely on the sport for their livelihood.
Frustration aside, there are many fine people and groups that are working diligently to improve the sport. Some of these groups have no authority but, nevertheless, are committed to improve on some regulatory aspect in horse racing.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will single out just three of these groups. I’ve focused my attention on groups that are national in scope and under-appreciated or whose mission or authority are misunderstood.
Here, in no particular order, are my Pick 3 selections:
RCI Model Rules Committee
The most important committee of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) is its Model Rules Committee. Although the lack of uniformity in rules is one of the industry’s most persistent complaints, it’s the RCI through its Model Rules Committee that brings some semblance of order to racing’s regulations.
To the extent that regulations differ from state to state, it’s the individual state commissions that are responsible – not the RCI or its Model Rules Committee.
You might ask, “If the committee has no authority, what good are they?”
Well, look at it this way. If there were no standards, then there would be even greater variance in uniformity from state to state.
I participated in developing RCI model rules in the early 1990s when the effort was in its infancy. At that time there was little structure to the process; it was just a dozen or so commission executive directors sitting around a table trying to begin a project from scratch. Developing the initial model rules consisted primarily of comparing states rule books and determining which state had the best rule. For example, if the consensus of our group was that Kentucky had the best rule for “fill in the blank,” then that rule would be proposed as a national model rule.
The process for developing model rules is now much more professional and very well structured. Take a look for yourself at the RCI Model Rules website.
The greatest improvement in the process, however, is the breadth and depth of expertise at the disposal of the Model Rules Committee. Professionals such as horsemen, jockeys, veterinarians, and racing chemists are volunteering their time to advise the committee for the greater good of the sport.
Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP)
Uniform rules are desirable, of course, but who is going to interpret them and apply them to real-life situations at the track? What kind of education, training, and experience do racing officials need, especially stewards, who are ultimately responsible for regulating the race meets on a day-to-day basis?
Fortunately, the racing industry has had the foresight to develop qualified officials.
ROAP is an industry-funded initiative for those interested in becoming a steward or judge in flat, harness, or steeplechase disciplines. ROAP was officially incorporated in 2006 after unifying several stewards training programs across the country under one organization. Training historically was taught through The Jockey Club course in New York and through the universities of Arizona and Louisville, the American Quarter Horse Association, National Steeplechase Association, and the United States Trotting Association. In 1991, those groups began the collaboration process that is now known as ROAP.
Top racing officials from across the country volunteer their time to pass on their expertise and experience to future racing officials.
Accreditation requires completing 60 hours of classroom instruction; passing a four-and-a-half-hour exam emphasizing general rules, medication, drug testing, and legal and regulatory issues, including due process; a film analysis exam; and industry work experience.
The accreditation process doesn’t end with fulfilling the aforementioned requirements.
To maintain accreditation, all accredited racing officials, stewards, and judges must attend a continuing education session approved by ROAP totaling at least 16 credit hours every two years. The continuing education component is vital to keeping all officials current on new regulations and initiatives and to combat new methods developed that could harm the integrity of the sport.
The success of ROAP is demonstrated by racing commissions requiring accreditation for their racing officials, especially stewards. At least 28 commissions require or give preference to stewards with ROAP accreditation.
Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA)
TAA is another industry-funded initiative being established with seed money from Breeders’ Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association Inc. The TAA is also supported by owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, aftercare professionals, and other industry groups.
The TAA, the only accrediting body in Thoroughbred aftercare, now has a network of 70 accredited organizations with approximately 150 facilities in North America.
The TAA explains its accreditation process on its website:
TAA-accredited organizations undergo a thorough application and inspection process prior to accreditation being awarded to ensure they meet the TAA’s Code of Standards, which covers five key areas: operations, education, horse health care management, facility standards and services, and adoption policies and protocols. Facility inspections are conducted at all facilities housing Thoroughbreds for each organization. Ongoing updates and re-inspections are required of all organizations as a condition of TAA accreditation.
Not only has the TAA established high standards, it has provided peace of mind to those willing to donate funding and to owners wanting to know that their retired racehorses are placed in the best environment possible.
Many more organizations deserve our thanks
When selecting my Pick 3 I asked myself the question, “Where would we be without these groups?”
I know there are many other deserving groups.
To quote Mark Twain, “It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races.”
Who’s in your Pick 3?