Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Racing Must Turn Talk Into Action Sooner, Not Later


The University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program hosts the 45th Annual Global Symposium on Racing from December 3-5. Several pressing issues are on the agenda and several are not.

Integrity is on the agenda. Twice. First in the keynote address by Jack Anderson, Professor of Sports Law and Melbourne Law School, and again in a panel discussion that includes Jennifer Durenberger, New York Racing Association Regulatory Veterinarian and Racing Officials Accreditation Program board member.

Integrity begins with ridding the sport of drugs. If that is not the top priority, then they will just be flapping their lips. No other sport in the world allows athletes to receive injectable drugs on the day of an event. Both the practice and optics are terrible.

Whip use is another topic that needs immediate attention. Europe has regulated whip use but that has yet to happen here. Jockey Christophe Soumillon’s excessive use of the whip on Thunder Snow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic would have earned the rider a severe penalty in Europe--a three to four weeks suspension--but the stewards at Churchill Downs in Kentucky did not register even a whisper of complaint.

The two greatest queries from people not associated with the sport ask why drugs and whipping are allowed. This has not escaped the eyes of those supporting animal rights activists and will have a long-term negative effect if not reeled in. Human-animal bonds get stronger by the day.

The Trifecta for a Successful Content Marketing Strategy is another category, one including a presentation and discussion of video, mobile content, and personalized digital marketing. America’s Best Racing, a subsidiary of The Jockey Club, is currently working on a deal to produce personalized digital marketing.

The latter represents an important tool for racing to utilize in the future. It currently works extremely well for Google.

Another subject on the agenda twice is sports betting. One panel will address Sports Betting: Coming to a Jurisdiction Near You. The other ponders: Sports Betting: A Friend or Foe in the New Era of Sports and Gaming Competition?

Sports betting already has, and will continue to take betting dollars away from horseracing. Our industry has to figure a way to dovetail racing wagers with other sports bets by offering unique cross-sports wagers and racing promotions on sports betting sites such as FanDuel.

There are several more panel discussions scheduled and the final important discussion asks; Is it Possible That Horse Racing is One Referendum Away From Disappearing in Your Jurisdiction?

The recent passage of such a referendum in Florida will eliminate dog racing in the state that once was the home of the greatest number of dog tracks in the nation. It is a valid question to ask at this time and the slippery slope from dogs to horses must addressed and avoided, of course.

Here are some important matters not on the agenda:

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium last month announced that The Jockey Club gave it millions more for drug research. On the surface that seems like a win-win, but diving deeper actually indicates that it might be throwing good money after bad.

A comprehensive out of competition [OOCT] testing program with severe penalties is paramount. The current OOCT is a patchwork of ineffective measures that has failed to catch anyone doing any significant doping: Trainers do not naturally win at a 40-to-50 percent clip.

The Breeders’ Cup used OOCT on 94% (180/191) of the horses entered for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup weekend. Sampling occurred in three European and ten North American jurisdictions a minimum of one time, with some runners subjected to multiple sampling.

Through pre-race testing, 85 of 90 individual Breeders’ Cup trainers had at least one horse sampled. All results were clean. It seems counterintuitive that everyone played fairly with 30 million dollars up for grabs. It is more likely that chemists are still a decade ahead of the testing laboratories.

In New York, according to NYRA vice president Martin Panza, trainers have 24 hours to bring in a horse for OOCT. In sports that are serious about OOCT, it occurs via random, surprise testing.

Noted veterinarian Rick Arthur recently called for a serious change in the methodology of OOCT because races are won when horses train on drugs that cannot detected on race day.

With respect to racing disqualifications, a recent suggestion by the newly formed Thoroughbred Idea Foundation [TIF] called for the standard used by stewards to adjudicate fouls in the US be switched from category two from category one.

The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities definition of the two categories follow:

Category 1: “If, in the opinion of the staging authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge’s placings will remain unaltered.”


Category 2: “Countries whose rules provide that, if the interferer is guilty of causing interference and such interference has affected the result of the race, the interferer is placed behind the sufferer irrespective of whether the sufferer would have finished in front of the interferer had the incident(s) not occurred.”

The TIF cited three decisions by the stewards at the Saratoga meeting, all of which I agreed with, but other handicappers, bettors and journalists had decidedly split opinions. The stewards at Saratoga decided all on the grounds of a cost placing, the criteria for category one.

Clearly, the criteria used is not nearly as important as transparency. A change to live on-camera adjudications is necessary to insure integrity. Racing’s image issues and poor optics have been documented and unfortunately well earned.

Outsider’s view racing is as industry where people make a lot of money by doping and otherwise abusing horses in order to race then uncaringly discard them when economics dictate. The current and projected economics of U.S. thoroughbred horseracing, while a tad better than flat this year, nonetheless shows an industry in decline.

We must face these facts: Handle has dropped precipitously in a short time, the foal crop is down, tracks are closing, the consumer base is aging, public interest is low, and we present a mediocre product save for a few select meetings and major events. Some ideas worth consideration:

The industry needs to change the narrative in order to improve its image: Drug use must end; cradle to grave care must be standardized; data needs to be on par with major sports leagues; the tote system must be brought up to speed and the betting product could use a boost from popular new trends: Head to head betting, in-race wagering, fixed odds, and penny breakage.

We need to correct course-condition labeling by determining the amount of moisture present with the use of a moister meter. Posting the actual percentage of moisture in the surface should update the time-dated designations such as fast, good, sloppy, firm, soft, etc., etc.

We need a thorough cleanup from top to bottom and front to back, starting with the breeders and horse sales through the racing side of the business and culminating with retirement and aftercare.

Historically, racing has swept bad news under the rug. However, a few exposed cheaters—and not just sacrificial lambs--would show the industry is truly interested in fair play and in keeping an exciting sport and viable wagering activity alive.

The industry must deal with its issues now. If it does not, racing’s fate will be determined by outsiders not the least interested in our welfare. Some interests will call for our elimination entirely. And underestimating and ignoring that consensus would be a dangerous miscalculation.

Written by Mark Berner

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