By John Pricci with Mark Berner

California is a great place to start! On behalf of all California-based horses, thank you for your courage Ms. Stronach.
Belinda Stronach statement of March 14 here:

To its credit, states that suffered a spate of catastrophic breakdowns in recent years have taken steps to address medication and safety issues. The problem is they are treating the symptom and not the root cause: Raceday medication.

Ending race-day medication is the key to cleaning up the Thoroughbred industry. All else is secondary. So, make that happen somehow, Jockey Club, and, while at it, tell the whole world what you’re doing. All of us could use some good PR.

And then racing will see that transparency is not such a bad thing after all.

The effect that eliminating raceday medication would have is the ability to see the industry heal itself naturally, organically, giving itself, and the perception of it, a healthy cleanse. And what could be greener than that?

From eliminating raceday medication and extending withdrawal deadlines, all good things will flow. Not immediately. In fact, initially, the process will be painfully slow and costly.

But doing the same-old, same-old is not an option. In fact, it would be the beginning of the end. An outraged public, spearheaded by animal rights activists, will win: Game over.

That dreaded and unnecessary scenario, post-Santa Anita 2019, is but a single high-profile breakdown away. So, industry, are you feeling lucky?

Let’s look on the bright side. Eventually, the breeding market will adjust to a new normal; not tomorrow, but what if it’s five years from tomorrow? Is anyone here interested in playing the game on a level field?

The sales market would become more selective, as would the buyers. Bidding will be more competitive and probably sustain, perhaps even increase, today’s inflated prices in the long term. Considering the alternative, it’s a small price to pay.

Not only would the elimination of raceday medication improve the present image of racing presented to the public, it would also improve the breed over time. My children and yours may not be around to appreciate it, but their children can be.

Dr. Mary Scollay of the Kentucky Racing Commission thinks gene-pool cleansing would take 50 years. If today’s stakeholders really care about the animals, the wait will have been worth it; a legacy worth leaving.

The real question is are there any sportsmen or true horsemen left willing to gamble on their expertise to succeed? Racing needs the kind of horsemanship that will allow a chance for knowledge to replace needles. Patience, grasshoppers.

This goes for owners, too. Horse ownership is a privilege not a right, and with that comes a license and responsibilities. As a group, will the majority of owners forever be content to watch 20% of the outfits win the headlines and 80% of the prize money?

Without raceday medication horses will find their proper racing level by natural selection. The market for bleeders and fragile soft-boned breeding lines eventually would disappear. Soundness and stamina would replace demon speed.

Masking sophisticated doping schemes would be far more difficult if race-day Lasix were banned. Infirm horses need time, not drugs that mask problems. Micro-dosing illegal drugs and stacking legal medications would be more difficult, if not eliminated entirely, absent furosemide.

If animals need medication to fix what ails them, they should have it, just not on race day or on days immediately preceding competition.

Optics matter. Racing has a fiendish reputation and a huge perception problem. The solution that will last come only from fixing problems from the inside. The public needs to see that racing cares about more than glory and prize money.

Existing model rules are a good start but are inadequate because horsemen have the power to lord over simulcasting. Owners and trainers need to be made accountable by the only organization in a position to wield any power, The Jockey Club.

Since agencies in each racing jurisdiction are governed by that state’s legislature, enforcement is, by definition, uneven and unfair. These supposed universal regulations are in fact discretionary. There is no manner of enforcement if a jurisdiction decides not to abide.

Concerned with what Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg termed "chemical warfare" before a Congressional Committee in 2008, a bi-partisan group filed legislation entitled the "Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act 2011" in both houses.

A de facto amendment to the 1978 bill, it stipulated that Congress could require that simulcast races be run-drug free.

In May 2013, the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety act of 2013 was introduced before the 113th Congressional session, to no avail.

Two years later, the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, aka Barr-Tonko, was introduced. It, too, failed to pass despite the deletion of two words from the original: “And Safety.”

Two years after that, Barr-Tonko was reintroduced and once again failed to pass. Now it is scheduled to be reintroduced in the House of Representatives again this year—right on schedule!

This pattern of failure is due to a malfunctioning industry that has failed to unite behind federal legislation, most notably the National Horsemen’s Protective and Benevolent Association despite a mission statement that reads in part: “Encouraging the highest standards of horsemanship to continuously improve the care, health and safety of the horse.”

Another bill much further along in the legislative process is the Safeguard American Food Exports Act (SAFE Act). The House bill has 218 co-sponsors and the Senate bill has 30. This bill would prohibit the knowing sale or transport of equines or equine parts for human consumption both in the US and for export.

If passed, the SAFE Act would instantly force the racing industry to deal with a huge aftercare burden. The cost of that will be approximately $120 million every year 20,000 horses are foaled. Currently, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance’s annual allotment is $3-to-4 million per year. Where will the shortfall come from?

In response to recent events, Santa Anita now requires trainers to seek permission before high speed workouts 24 hours in advance. The new approach includes a review of past performances, physical inspections before and after workouts, scheduled segregation of workers from gallopers to curb equine traffic, and for allowing the transfer of health records from one owner to the next, helping identify horses “at risk.”

Arizona has taken action, though far less comprehensively. As indicated in Part 1, Turf Paradise will introduce pre-race veterinary inspections of all entered horses beginning March 18. Laudable for sure. But why isn’t this common practice at every racetrack in America? Deplorable.

New York also made cursory advancements only to compromise the process by grossly inflating purses for claiming horses, the same calamity that resulted in the death cluster of 2012. A study determined that drug dependent horses were entered far too aggressively.

While the New York State Gaming Commission never runs out of dogs and ponies to put on its show, the NYSGC demonstrates incompetence and neglect when it rubber stamps an economic policy that already has cost equine lives.

The Jockey Club must lead the way because no other organization has the wherewithal to do the job: According to IRS Form 1990 Database, as of 2016, the organization has $90,467,990 in total assets and should have little difficulty sustaining itself.

A template for the Jockey Club to consider as potential mandates:

1-Elimination of raceday Lasix and Bute forcing horses to run clean and to their natural ability. In time, the gene pool will be free of drug-compromised sires and dams.
2-Bar the practice of corrective surgery prior to yearling and two-year-old sales.
3-Bar unnaturally super-fast speed trails prior to juvenile sales, limiting pre-sale exhibitions to jogging and galloping--no more furlongs in 10 seconds, or quarter miles in 20.
4-In addition to eradicating raceday drug use, extend withdrawal times of all permitted medications.
5-Limit whip use so as to limit the practice to the interests of horse and rider safety.
6-Use house veterinarians to administer legal medications to be sold, logged and limiting purchase to racetrack dispensaries.
7-Provide access to MRI machines to racetrack or training track facilities, as is in place at Palm Meadows.
8-Require random out of competition testing.
9-Continue the recent trend toward carding more, less stressful, turf racing.
10-If measures fail to eliminate raceday Lasix use, refuse to register the offspring of sires and dams who raced on furosemide.
11-Create an owner responsibility rule to mimic the trainer ultimate responsibility rule. Owners will think twice about picking a trainer if they and their entire string are suspended for a drug positive.
12- Fully fund aftercare through a combination of annuities, insurance products, a tax on sales and claims, and earnings for homebreds.

There is no league office. There is no league. But there is an organization, such as it is, that stands above the rest because it has the power to sanction all stakeholders. We already know the workaday industry is either incapable or unwilling to police itself. Time for the keepers of the Thoroughbred flame to step up, before a high-profile tragedy euthanizes the game.

If tracks can’t afford to pay for enhanced screening and comprehensive testing to advance safety protocols for the horses and riders, they shouldn’t be in business at all.

©John Pricci and Mark Berner, MAR 13, 2019,