By Mark Berner and John Pricci

Belinda Stronach shocked the racing world with an open letter that proposed restricted drug use and increased testing on March 14. In support of her radical approach, a consortium of racetracks followed her lead.

Stronach didn’t get everything right but she deserves immense credit for helping to turn around an industry that has headed in the wrong direction for decades.

Finally, someone had the guts to move the needle.

The timing was abrupt and poorly launched but the plan was already in place. Brokered by The Stronach Group President Mike Rogers and Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President of PETA, a plan was rushed for public consumption when the spate of breakdowns continued at Santa Anita.

Many questioned PETA’s invitation to the table but the animal rights’ group has the public’s ear and it’s usually preferable to work with the opposition rather than fight it.

Didn’t a wise man once say; “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer?”

As with the timing, the plan itself was imperfect but life is filled with compromises and the differences were, or are, being worked out in California.

And didn’t another wise man state; “Never allow perfect to be the enemy of good.”

The racetrack consortium consists of racetracks and racing associations that provide the industry with almost 90% of the betting handle, but of course must still construct agreements to implement the plan.

No less than the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs Incorporated, The Stronach Group, Del Mar, Keeneland, Lone Star Park, Los Alamitos Racecourse (Thoroughbreds), Oaklawn Park, Remington Park and Tampa Bay Downs formed the consortium.

Add to that list of major players, the support of Breeders' Cup Limited, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.

The Jockey Club currently is not part of the consortium but it does support Stronach’s initiatives. Moreover, as expected, major detractors include the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

The HPBA and the AAEP have skin in the game and the horsemen assert that they will follow the advice of the veterinarians. That’s all very nice but playing this circle game benefits neither the industry nor the Thoroughbred horse.

Groups that should consider horse welfare their prime directive are motivated by their own self-interest. However, the old bosses might not be equipped to deal with new bosses supported by a majority of an animal-loving public.

Europeans, among other racing jurisdictions around the world that race free of medication on raceday are quietly optimistic and cautiously hopeful that the new American plan comes to fruition.

Frank Stronach, the Honorary Chairman of TSG who recently dropped a lawsuit on his daughter Belinda, announced he would speak about the future of horse racing in California tonight in Arcadia.

That address will introduce a new concept, a Racing Charter of Rights with provisions that are intended to protect all industry stakeholders, including racetracks, breeders, owners and the sport’s equine and human athletes.

Inside Information leads us to believe, for the first time in recent history, that bettors will be included in the presentation. This is significant because horseplayers fuel the engine that runs this game.

The Stronachs know how to get things done and they do it inside politics. Belinda was a Minister of Parliament and a failed candidate for Prime Minister in Canada.

Frank gave the reins to Belinda when he went home to his native Austria and spent $30 million to launch a new political party to challenge the status quo. Politics is cheap compared to $1.5 billion he has invested in horseracing.

Frank thought he could do everything from within the industry. At one point, he wanted to build a commissary at Gulfstream Park. Only medications bought there, requested by pre-approved vets in writing, were to be dispensed only by approved vets. That never happened, but he had to do something.

Eventually he decided to make a low-key visit to Washington D.C. accompanied by his lobbyist.

Stronach wanted to acquire knowledge about proposed federal legislation that would approve an independent drug-testing agency, which is when he learned about United States Anti-Doping Agency. He also visited with legislators with an interest in horseracing.

Frank followed that path and joined the Water Oats and Hay alliance in 2013, then threw his support behind The Horse Race Integrity Act in 2017.

The sport badly needs the entire racing community to be on the same page philosophically and not resort to the kind of legal strategies that would have the racing family’s affairs to become public theater.

Can a family that has its own internal strife change the course of American flat racing when so many others have abandoned it, or have used it only for financial gain?

Only time will tell whether they truly want to embrace change or just raised the level of the public posturing. But at least significant segments of the racing industry are working together. Cooperation within competition.

Things are moving forward along the proper path. After decades of talk and endless study, a little action is providing some measure of hope.

© 2019 Mark Berner, John Pricci,