Anyone who follows horse racing in the U.S. knows that there is a lack of uniformity of rules state to state. We have now an interesting matter of a practicing veterinarian racing horses that brings into focus another shortcoming of our regulatory structure. Even when the rules are the same or similar, they are not enforced in a uniform manner.
It’s happening in Oklahoma. Even though Oklahoma, like most every state in the country, has rules regarding conflicts of interest that prohibit a practicing veterinarian from owning horses.
If you read the excellent piece by Natalie Voss posted on the Paulick Report a week before the Breeders’ Cup you might have gotten the impression that practicing veterinarians across the country, who by the rules in most states cannot own racing horses, simply hide their horse ownership in the name of another person. And worse yet, when the fact of this type of arrangement comes to light, that regulators just shrug their shoulders and look the other way.
Ms. Voss’ piece posted on November 24, 2019, titled, “‘That’s What We Do At Remington Park’: Veterinarian Admits He Owns Horses Released From Stewards’ List,” reveals just such an example.
I’ll share the most relevant portions of that article about Dr. Mark Millar who is described in the piece as – “one of the busiest private veterinarians on the backstretch at Remington Park”:
Oklahoma rules prohibit a jockey, veterinarian, or security personnel from being licensed “in any other capacity.” Most states prohibit veterinarians from owning or training horses, as there is a perceived potential conflict of interest. Millar is one of the busiest private veterinarians on the backstretch at Remington Park.
“Regarding the ownership shown on foal papers: the foal papers listed “Millar Equine” as the owner of said horses on April 4, 2019 but were signed over to Mark Millar on July 25, 2019,” said Cathey. “This (transfer) took place prior to the foal paper being turned into the Racing Office at Remington Park, whose race meet began August 23rd.”
Sworn testimony Millar gave during divorce proceedings suggests he is aware of this perceived conflict of interest. While discussing property division and bookkeeping, Millar was asked about earnings of It's Mine Racing, which he acknowledged was registered with the Remington Park horsemen's bookkeeper under his ex-wife's social security number. Millar said he owned the horses running under It's Mine Racing.
An exchange with his ex-wife's attorney about the issue went this way:
“So if this transcript that's being made was sent to the Horse Racing Commission or Remington Park, where you said the horses ran and won money were owned by you, you're not worried about being in any trouble, right?”
“Well, I might get in trouble. But, no, I'm not worried about it because everybody knew the truth. They ran in my brother's name before hers. They ran in 10 different people's name before those. And that's what we do at Remington Park. That's what we do in horse racing everywhere,” answered Millar.
“Do you think that's dishonest?” the attorney asked.
“Well, it probably is, sir,” Millar said.
Cathey says that because the transfer of the horses took place outside Remington Park, the OHRC has no jurisdiction.
“At this time it is the opinion of OHRC counsel that there is no issue presented which is in OHRC jurisdiction,” said Kelly Cathey, executive director for the OHRC.
“Dr. Millar is not a licensed owner but our rules do not preclude a licensed veterinarian from owning horses outside an enclosure that we have jurisdiction over,” Cathey said. “Any questions or claims regarding transfer of ownership outside an enclosure would be a matter for a court with proper jurisdiction to resolve.”
Whoa! There is a lot to digest here.
I’ll limit my remarks to the lack of regulatory action and to the comment of Dr. Millar saying, “And that's what we do at Remington Park. That's what we do in horse racing everywhere.”
Instead of immersing myself in the unfamiliar territory of Oklahoma rules and regulation, I’ll comment on how I would have likely addressed a similar situation while I was the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.
While in Indiana we prosecuted several hidden ownership cases, although I do not remember any that involved a licensed practicing veterinarian. Hidden ownership can be a serious violation depending on the circumstances. The most serious violation would be if the true owner was unlicensable for any reason, such as being suspended, having had his or her license revoked, or being prohibited by conflict of interest regulations.
None of those such violations would be an “accident.” They would be considered an intentional act to deceive.
Any horses at issue in such a dispute, given sworn testimony of an alleged owner, would be placed on the stewards’ list. They would be prohibited to enter or race until the matter was resolved. The resolution would likely include a substantial suspension, fine, and possible forfeiture of all monies earned by the horses in question.
It is important to note that the time and location of any illegal or unauthorized transfer of horses is immaterial. It does not matter if it took place before the race meet began or whether the meet was in progress. Nor does it matter whether such transfers took place on the grounds in the track kitchen or in town at the local Starbucks.
A violation of racing rules occurs every time a horse is entered and races in the name of a person other than the true owner. Simply stated, the racing commission not only has jurisdiction over the owners of horses racing at its tracks (whether licensed or unlicensed), but they have a duty to ensure that the information on the official program is correct and that the rules on conflict of interest are enforced.
Now back to the Oklahoma vet’s remark – “That's what we do in horse racing everywhere.”
I don’t believe that is true. At least I hope it is not. I believe that most regulators would do the right thing and enforce their rules.
But again, this is horse racing, where every regulator is free to do their own thing.