Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fans Know Knowledge Is Power

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., September 12, 2015—When the public announcement was made that American Pharoah would compete in the Travers equipped with an aluminum pad, it took many fans by surprise.

An argument could be made that it should not have come as a revelation: The use of protective foot-ware had been well publicized when the colt’s three-year-old campaign began this spring.

Of course, at the time, he was simply just another promising Derby horse and racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion.

Still, if he were to be the great bay hope that would attract new fans to the sport, then the more education new fans receive, the better.

However, a problem may be that this game is so nuanced even veteran horseplayers become confused on a daily basis by various, sundry issues.

Then there’s this: Over-analysis can lead to paralysis of the decision-making process, which often results in depleting bankrolls.

HRI regular Denny asked if we could write a column expressing the need for horseplayers to get any and all information possible in order to make better informed decisions.

While this seems a no-brainer, the late Pat Lynch, a highly respected speed handicapper for the Journal-American before becoming the NYRA’s Vice President of Communications, answered my handicapping question with another question:

“At what point does too much information become confusion?”

Back in the day I enjoyed a cup of coffee as a member of NYRA’s press staff. Part of my responsibilities was transcribing Lynch’s speed figures on press box-created entry sheets immediately after the next day’s races were drawn.

Races were drawn on a 24-hour then, so there were no advance past performances for handicappers to study. Public handicappers of the day had to fashion selections from result charts pasted into thick accounting ledgers:

Nine-race cards were the order of the day; the first race on January 1 was race #1. The first race on January 2nd was that year’s #10, etc., etc.

I asked Mr. Lynch if he wanted me to include chart footnotes that describe what happens during the running of a race in the information I provided. He said “no, I don’t want to know what everyone else knows.”

Only later did I understand that he was being the ultimate contrarian, putting stock only in his figures and experience. The horse having the best figures with a good separation between itself and the competition was the best bet.

The game was a lot simpler then. The only times the term bounce were used came when describing that day’s action on Wall Street compared to yesterday. It was a positive term, as in “bounce back.”

Only after Sheets founder Len Ragozin wrote his seminal work, “The Odds Must Be Crazy,” did the negative term “bounce” enter the handicapping lexicon.
With no raceday Lasix as crutch, or worse, and with breeders concentrating on soundness and stamina rather than athletic speed types that look pretty in sales rings, trainers ran their horses back quickly. “Recovery time” was not an issue.

There were no breeding statistics back in the day, or Tomlinson figures, only mud-marks. There were no percentages on jockeys or trainers to compare; no trend information. There was no pre-race prattle, no paddock analysis.

Front bandages were not noted in past performance lines then; only blinkers on or off. No one made a big deal about the use of tongue ties and nasal strips had not yet been invented.

I got into the habit of getting to the track early—there was no OTB, much less nationwide simulcasting. The only way to see replays was to get to the track well before the races and watch previous day action for that track only.

And if you wished to see a tight photo pre-race, you had to walk to the floor where it was posted on a large screen, usually next to a results board that showed late-arriving bettors who won, placed or showed earlier that day.


Modern horseplayers have never had it so good but this is a different era-- the information and social media age. The use of television and the Internet are tailor-made for disseminating racing’s voluminous databank of factors.

However, basic betting information is in the hands of the providers: Equibase and racing/marketing departments at racetracks. The responsibility for educating horseplayers is incumbent on them.

We’ve commented before that NYRA’s closed-circuit coverage is, on balance, second to none. But had I been, say, checking the odds on a Gulfstream race I wanted to bet, I would have missed seeing Ralis’s nasal strip or hearing Maggie Wolfendale’s paddock commentary.

But that’s what printed entries and past performance lines are for. However the information can only be as good as the original source; racing department’s everywhere.

Why shouldn’t horsemen be compelled by track rule to indicate, for instance, nasal strip or tongue tie use at time of entry so it can be posted on the overnight and advance past performances?

Why shouldn’t every track be compelled to indicate changes in footwear, or other equipment such as cheek pieces?

Are they merely decorative or do they help or horse focus, acting like some blinkers do? The answer depends on which horseman you ask.

Denny mentioned that there are many forms of blinkers. At what point does that knowledge become confusing? Opening up the blinkers was a tack Kiaran McLaughlin used successfully prior to Frosted’s Wood Memorial score.

But at that point McLaughlin admitted he was merely trying shake things up, hoping that would help reverse a prior losing effort. It did, but he couldn’t know for sure until after the race.

Regardless, the industry shouldn’t worry about whether or not too much information causes confusion. It simply must do a better job of educating their consumers. Put everything out there and let fans decide for themselves.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Nothing Foggy About Racing Australia’s “Clear Day” Policy

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 4, 2015—As Thoroughbred racing gets closer to zero hour with respect to enacting meaningful reform via independent oversight and a ban on raceday use of medication, battle lines continue to be drawn.

What’s encouraging is the fact that the industry is finally addressing medication concerns, legal and otherwise, earnestly, especially since federal legislation has emerged as a real possibility.

By now all organizations know where the others stand and there’s no need for any further study. This issue has been studied to death with each side claiming it has the evidence to support its own position. However, only independent action will do now.

The pro independent-oversight faction gained more support this week when Jeff Gural’s three racetracks, including the Meadowlands, America’s leading harness track, joined the Coalition of Horse Racing Integrity as its eighth supporting organizational member.

The Coalition supports the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 sponsored by House Representatives Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) which in part would enable the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent, racing-specific, non-governmental and non-profit organization to work with established racing commissions.

And only this week did the DEA report that their sting operation, with the assistance of USADA, made 90 arrests and seized 16 underground steroid labs, including 636 kilograms of raw steroid powder and 8,200 liters of raw steroid injectable liquid, manufactured and trafficked via underground labs in China.

As for Gural, he has been walking his talk for years, paying for beefed-up security and out-of-competition testing that utilizes Hong Kong Jockey Club laboratories out of his own pocket. Gural does more than just pay lip service to the illusive level playing field.

Had New York been utilizing this same approach—highly creditable outside labs and state- of-the-art security--two recent positives might never have occurred. HRI has learned that in one case the level of overage was so high that it placed a stakes winner’s life in danger.

Consider this: Would it make sense for any horseman to put a valuable horse’s life at risk to win the lion’s share of a low six-figure purse? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, all trainers are culpable under the absolute insurer’s rule.

So the question then becomes how does an extremely high amount of any substance get into a horse’s system in the first place? Of course, this assumes accurate test results which as we have seen is far from a given in New York and just about anywhere else.

In an unrelated case, a horse from another barn tested positive at levels approximately 50 times what is considered normal. But when tested again after the horse raced back five days later, not a trace of the medication was found in the horse’s system. A veterinarian would tell you that this is impossible.

Fearing recrimination, neither trainer would comment publicly--another reason for independent oversight since outside agencies couldn’t hold stalls allotments over the head of trainers courageous enough to speak to reporters on the record.

The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association this week announced its intention to acquire state-of-the-art testing equipment for New York’s Equine Drug Testing and Research Program, a platform that has failed miserably since leaving Cornell’s auspices with attendant funding cuts.

NYTHA stated it will cover the entire cost of the new equipment, approximately $450,000, which is a laudable intention but is too little and too late. Anything short of independent oversight assures only status quo with lipstick. The road to false positives has been paved with good intentions. New York is symptomatic of an industry-wide program.

This has been quite a busy week on the drug front. On the other side of the world, Racing Australia—representing an entire continent in love with horse racing--announced a ban on injections “one clear day” before races and official trials, effective Oct. 1, 2015.

The ban extends to blood tests, vitamin injections and all other injections of any kind. A “clear day” is defined as the 24-hour period from 12.01 am to 12.00 midnight the day before the race.

Racing Australia trusts there is no scientific evidence to support that the health and welfare of a horse is guaranteed by hypodermic injection within one clear day of racing but believes there are a number of excellent integrity reasons to restrict the administration of any substance by hypodermic injection so close to a race.

Australia has it right when it argues there is an unjustifiable reliance on intravenous injections close to race day and that integrity concerns demand a reform to established practices that are not essential to a horse’s well-being.

Those screams you are about to hear will come from the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn., the Association of Racing Commissioner’s International and other organizations preferring that the current system remain in place.

Under certain circumstances, the new Australian rule will allow a trainer to seek permission from the stewards for an exception to the ban if clinical issues in the horse are clearly apparent. However, the announcement did not define what “clinical issue” means or what substance could be used as a remedy.

Given the New York positives cited above, especially with respect to the horse whose life was threatened and it being unlikely that a horseman would purposely put an animal’s life in jeopardy, NYTHA’s $450,000 would be better spent as a down payment on meaningful barn security.

Twenty-four/seven surveillance video of everything and everyone entering or exiting the barn would be an excellent deterrent to cheaters whether they be backstretch workers or ancillary racetrack personnel by providing tangible evidence.

From the horsemen who seek a true level playing field--to the racetracks that book bets and charge for everything from admission to hot dogs--to racing states who take their cut of it all, a top-level security function should have been provided long ago.

As horseracing practitioners on the other side of the world have already realized, it’s never too late to begin meaningful reform. More bandages will only serve to hide the festering damage already done.

* * *

Coalition For Horse Racing Integrity Issues Response To HANA Poll
by Press Release

Statement from Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity Regarding Horseplayers Association of North America Poll

The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity has released the following statement in response to the publication of a poll by the Horseplayers Association of North America reflecting overwhelming support among bettors for reforming drug use and enforcement in horse racing:

“Horseplayers and bettors are the lifeblood of the Thoroughbred racing industry. The leadership of HANA clearly understands that we must ensure their voice is represented, and we praise the recent announcement of a poll of its members which concluded that more than four in five horseplayers (83%) support national uniform drug and medication standards overseen by experts at USADA, an independent, nongovernmental non-profit organization.
Shadwell Farm

These results mirror similar polling conducted among bettors in recent years by the NTRA, McKinsey & Company and Penn Schoen Berland. Most recently, a 2015 Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity survey found that:

· 77% of horseracing bettors consider the possibility of illegal drug use when handicapping.

· Among those who form an opinion about whether trainers are using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), three in five (60%) say they typically bet less on the race, compared with less than one in twenty (4%) who say they bet more.

· 92% of horseracing bettors said they want to see uniform medication policies happen faster than they are happening now, and

· 72% support a proposal to grant oversight of drug and medication testing and enforcement to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The support of individual horseplayers for a national framework, as well as the recently announced support of the Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, epitomizes the wide variety of industry interests who are committed to the medication reform and uniformity that is needed to ensure integrity in our sport.”

The Coalition – whose membership also includes the Breeders’ Cup Ltd., the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medicine Association, The Jockey Club, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders, Meadowlands Racetrack, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs and the Water Hay Oats Alliance – supports the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015. This bill, introduced in July 2015 to the House of Representatives by Congressmen Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), will direct the non-governmental, non-profit U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent, racing-specific, non-governmental and non-profit organization to work collaboratively with state racing commissions and their respective staff members throughout the country.

Additional information, including full 2015 polling results, stories from supporters and ways to contact Congressional members to express support for this legislation, is available at

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

ARCI’s Martin Spearheading Pushback Campaign to Thwart Meaningful Reform

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 20, 2015—With the New York State Gaming Commission set to host a day-long forum on Tuesday to discuss the policies on, and rules pertaining to, the administration of raceday Lasix, a push-back and disinformation campaign by raceday-Lasix proponents has already begun.

It started last week with a story authored by Victor Salazar that appeared in horseracing-related media quoting professional boxer Steve Cunningham to say that random Olympic-style drug testing which was supposed to be administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency was never performed, implying that USADA had dropped the ball.

It wasn’t until later in the story was it indicated that routine pre- and post-race tests had been conducted by that state’s boxing commission concerning the bout in question. Indeed, all states require pre- and post-bout tests wherever boxing is sanctioned.

Illegal use of steroids are at the heart of doping issues in professional boxing. The violent nature of the sport is the reason why random testing makes should be mandatory. It wasn’t until later in the story when it was learned USADA didn’t conduct the random tests because the bout’s promoters failed to pay for it.

Aside from the curious appearance of this story in horse-racing related media, the bottom line is that despite assurances that the sport of boxing wants to clean up its act, the industry depends on the kindness of promoters to pay the freight.

Calling Don King.

Of greater relevance, of course, is that racing’s anti-USADA pushback has started appearing on racing websites this week thanks in large measure to the protectionists efforts Ed Martin, President of the American Racing Commissioners International.

First to appear was an ARCI release headlined “Attorneys: Racing Prosecutions on Solid Ground,” stating that “racing’s anti-doping rules will continue to withstand legal challenge, according to conclusions reached at a meeting of regulatory attorneys convened by the ARCI.”

In others words, lawyers hired by ARCI found in favor of a position that the organization has long held, dating back to when Martin appeared before a congressional committee at which he testified to that the continued use of clenbuterol was a good and necessary remedy.

Never mind the ethics, never mind the optics and never mind racing’s reputation based on a track record showing it is unable to police itself given a patchwork quilt of regulations knitted together by 38 individual racing jurisdictions in this country.

Never mind, too, that this lack of uniformity, despite some of the progress made, continues to catch horsemen in threshold jackpots as commissions continue to enforce the rules they wish to enforce, against the individuals they wish to punish for whatever reason, not all of which are justified, ethical or legal.

All this is made possible by a system that pays lip service to constitutional rights because judges are loathe to challenge rulings made in administrative hearings by states who appoint the judge, jury and executioners. Rick Dutrow, e.g., is the poster child for such selective adjudication.

Later this week the Thoroughbred Owners of California came out against having USADA, under the auspices of THADA--a Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Agency to be formed in cooperation with, and administered by, in part, officials appointed by the industry. The TOC apparently is not interested in having an independent overseer of standard drug-testing and punishment protocols.

Then came the mother of all obstructionist activities with an Arkansas Racing Commissioner press release on ARCI letterhead stating its position with the headline: “Entire Arkansas Horse Racing Industry Opposes Federal Bills,” because that would be a “departure from cooperative efforts that have historically been productive.”

That statement would be laughable if it weren’t so untrue and unethical. The Arkansas Racing Commission has a well-documented history of non-participation with industry-sponsored initiatives such as The Equine Injury Database, the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, and the Jockey Injury Database.

It is no accident that the copy machine inside the ARCI offices is again working overtime to further Martin’s agenda.

It must be recalled once that Martin’s letter to the Kentucky Racing Commission on RCI stationery strongly suggesting that Dutrow be denied a Kentucky license later gave New York’s State Racing & Wagering Board impetus to issue a draconian 10-year sentence, one based on false testimony, planted evidence, illegal search and a false positive finding, among other factors.

But this is about more than Martin’s vendetta and overt cronyism, or the injustice shown and civil rights denied to Dutrow. It’s ultimately about racing’s survival and the rights of all horsemen to be treated equally under justly under uniform rules and regulations.

If horse racing is to survive and prosper, there is only one conclusion that leads to one question: Independent oversight and honest reform is needed now and cronyism and the status quo can no longer be tolerated as acceptable behavior. What are obstructionists trying to hide?

August 21, 2015 – The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity has released the following statement:

“Yesterday, the California Horse Racing Board failed to pass a proposed amendment requiring the race-day administration of furosemide be administered by independent, third-party veterinarians. California has been debating the proposed rule, one of the four pillars of the industry-endorsed National Uniform Medication Program, for three years.

“California is vital to American racing. The failure to pass a specific, necessary medication reform in a timely fashion underscores the need for uniform regulation and enforcement through the privatized, non-governmental Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority, to make overdue reforms a reality in all 38 racing states. This latest event truly demonstrates the difficulty of achieving uniformity under the current state by state approach.”

The Coalition members, including the Breeders’ Cup Ltd., the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the Jockey Club, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders, and the Water Hay Oats Alliance, support the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (THIA). To learn more about the coalition and THIA, visit our website here.

Written by John Pricci

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