My intention was to write a year-end piece that highlighted the most important regulatory issues and related news from 2019. Halfway through the list I had to stop. It was just too depressing, too negative.
And this is coming from someone who writes critical commentary all the time!
How could I comment on this year’s events in a more uplifting or aspirational way?
I began a new list from a different perspective. What are some of the initiatives that have been put in place that will serve the racing industry moving forward? We all know these are vulnerable times for U.S. racing. We need to reinvent the way we conduct our business and the way we interact with the general public. Where is some good work being done in this business that is worthy of emulation?
2019 will be remembered as the year the general public became broadly aware of equine fatalities. So, I have chosen to highlight three related initiatives. Of course, there are more out there. But I’ve chosen to highlight one program in each of the following three categories: research, transparency, and cooperation.
With appropriate resolve, there is nothing to prevent any of these programs from becoming standard industry practice.
Research – California’s Postmortem Examination Program
California’s Postmortem Examination Program has been in operation since 1990 and, according to its 2017/2018 report, as of June 30, 2018, has performed examinations on 7,061 horses. Initiated by the California Horse Racing Board, the program is a partnership with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System.
The program has three primary objectives: 1) to determine the nature of injuries occurring in racehorses, 2) to determine the reasons for these injuries, and 3) to develop injury prevention strategies.
We in the business often repeat the mantra that 85 percent of catastrophic breakdowns show preexisting pathologies. Well, where did you think that came from? Yep! California’s Postmortem Examination Program. The fruits of these labors will be seen with the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography devices at Santa Anita Park in the very near future. With horse racing’s renewed emphasis on all things safety, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these, and similar technologies, become more widely utilized across the country.
All, again, thanks to the research of California’s Postmortem Examination Program.
Transparency – New York’s Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury, and Incident Database
We hear a lot about the need for transparency. In racing, we are long on talk and short on action when it comes to being transparent. Much of the recent discussions surrounding this topic have do with equine deaths.
The industry has been well-served by the national Equine Injury Database, which is maintained by The Jockey Club, due to exceptional participation from Thoroughbred racetracks (albeit many contributing tracks choose not to make their individual data publicly available). This repository is the go-to resource for media and the public for information about catastrophic breakdowns (equine fatalities).
Where does the public go when they want real-time information on equine fatalities? Well, there is no place to go unless you are attempting to find information in one of those few states that make this information readily accessible.
The New York Gaming Commission does a tremendous job providing information through its website. The information can be sorted by breed, track, or type – meaning racing, training, or other. In addition, it is also searchable by trainer, horse, and other factors.
Its most welcoming feature, however, is its timeliness. I have on several occasions seen a horse’s death posted within 48 hours of its race. I think that the racing industry is moving (albeit very slowly) in the direction of this type of full disclosure. The New York Gaming Commission has demonstrated how it should be done.
Cooperation – The Mid-Atlantic Region
Unless and until we have national uniformity, what is the next best thing? It’s regional uniformity.
On October 2, 2019, more than 60 racing industry stakeholders representing regulators, horsemen, and racetrack operators from the Mid-Atlantic region (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) met at Delaware Park to pursue the implementation of a strategic plan to reduce equine fatalities.
Each jurisdictions completed a 27-point gap analysis of a strategic plan. This analysis covered topics including claiming and medication regulations, track maintenance, and trainer and veterinarian education.
We have experienced with the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules that general agreement on policy does not necessarily lead to uniformity — either in rules or in their enforcement. Only time will tell if uniformity among the Mid-Atlantic region will be achieved.
Nevertheless, the effort to produce best practices is laudatory and all participants are to be commended.