New York City, February 5, 2009--According to a Thoroughbred Times Internet report, racing regulations were uppermost in the minds of racing executives as the joint annual meeting of the National Thoroughbred Associations and Harness Tracks of America concluded Wednesday.

What was clear is that racing has no wish to be regulated by the federal government which is, of course, the good news and the bad and also begs the question: So who asked you, anyway?

The economy continues to swirl deeper into the toilet. Our elected leaders are acting like they lost; the losers are taking their obfuscation positions, making the cure for our ills none too stimulating, insuring the audacity of the status quo.

The goal should be to keep these people as far away from racing as possible, unless...

Modern deregulation started with Reagan, continued under Bush 1, was kicked up a notch during the Clinton years then was left to fester, like everything else, during Bush 2. It hasn’t worked--probably because the term “free enterprise” was too liberally interpreted to mean steal anything that’s not nailed down.

“We don’t need the federal government to tell us how to run our operations,” said American Horse Council President Jay Hickey. Congress would disagree, of course, believing the federal Interstate Horse Racing Act gives them license to do whatever they want.

Thus far, Beltway types have engaged only in questioning a handful of racing’s leaders by a House committee in the wake of Eight Belles’ catastrophic Kentucky Derby but, like Schwarzenegger, promised they would be back.

“This industry can get up and move when it needs to,” said Scot Waterman, D.V.M., according to the Thoroughbred Times report, adding that he is pleased with how the industry responded since the first phase of its model drug rules were rolled out in 2005.

It’s almost four years later and the ban on anabolic steroids--a phase 3 measure whereby an agreement between the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association required tracks to ban its use as a condition of races earning graded status--is the one development that has made an impact.

“Polls show that the less someone knows about racing the less they think of its integrity, and that has to change.” And where are the educational programs that not only would educate the public but the very legislators who rule on industry matters? Anyone who saw the House hearings last June knows education is elementary.

NTRA President Alex Waldrop updated the attendees on the progress being made on phase one of last year’s rollout of the Safety and Integrity Alliance, saying later that wagering security is an area the alliance could address in the future.

In the future? The integrity of the pools, a disconcerting issue for several years, is first now going to get some attention? Hopefully it will be more than a half measure. Waldrop said later that the alliance’s goal is to implement change but not act as a regulator. He’s for giving tracks the option of self regulation, which suggests the NTRA has no ambitions beyond the realm of trade organization. Back to square one.

The next step, to streamline post-race testing procedures, is the next logical course of action. But with labs scattered throughout the country and with many states hamstrung by various forms of a proposal process, economic sense might not yield the desired level of quality assurance.

Another attendee, RCI president Ed Martin, wants to see an end to redundant overregulation, believing the U.S. could follow the Canadian model where industry money pays an independent agency to conduct testing and research. He doesn’t think the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, the enforcement arm of the TRA, is suitable. “Racing cannot self-police itself,” he said.

So racing turns 360 degrees once again. How long do you think it will be before the feds figure out that if these racing guys think they can’t police themselves, and since none of their organizations seem willing or able to step up, we might not have a choice but to intervene?

Next time the industry’s leaders should agree to lock themselves in a room and not emerge until smoke wafts skyward from the fire that burns during this winter of racing’s discontent. There might be more to agree on than not.