This seems like a basic tenet, but a lack of uniformity exists because no one’s in charge. Everyone in the sport recognizes this, and the hope is that the industry will embrace many of the AAEP recommendations that are, on their face, timely, sensible and thoughtfully radical.
In terms of how the game is perceived, it is clear that the public must be educated. Racing must concede that social mores have changed and that the modern racehorse no longer a beast of burden but a pleasure animal and companion that isn’t abused but cherished, more a way of life than strict business commodity. The public needs convincing that the animal’s well being is of the highest priority.
For this to become a reality, the public must see for themselves that the industry has the horse’s best interests at heart. Given that claiming and condition horses dominate racing programs, changes to the structure of the claiming game and medication usage in horses intended for sale on the racetrack--and at public auction--must be made.
Other recommendations include having all claimed horses subjected to post-race inspection, as currently is the rule in New York, and claimed horses that test positive shall have the claim rescinded at the buyer’s discretion. And no claiming race should have a purse exceeding the claiming price by more than 50 percent, which should reduce the temptation to over-race.
All claimed horses shall not be allowed to start in a claiming for 30 days since the date of the claim, or for less than 25 percent more than the amount for which it was claimed. And, most significantly, horses that do not finish the race, or sustain catastrophic injury, remains the property of the original owner.
The AAEP knows it’s in for a battle as it tries to be an instrument for restructuring the racing model. Quoting Dr. Scott Palmer from the white paper: “Our premise is very simple: What is good for the horse is good for racing. It is fair to say that particular recommendations will resonate with some individuals and alienate others.”
Funding, of course, especially in this environment, is another issue. This is where the NTRA might be creative in raising revenue for the industry: There’s the matter of maintaining testing facilities; the storing of samples, underwritten in large part by the Jockey Club; research and development on medication and surface testing, and added backstretch security. After that, an aggressive public relations campaign to educate the public about the advances made safeguarding the health and welfare of the horse.
But there’s another issue, one the NTRA has not strongly embraced; advocating for the abolition of horse slaughter. The industry needs funding to assist in the transition of horses from racing to a second career. It cannot ask horseplayers to pay for it in the form of higher parimutuel takeout, which, in the absence of creativity, has been typical of the industry’s solution to deal with failed business models.
In most racing jurisdictions there is no institutional program to care for horses. There is no vehicle for rehabilitation, retraining, or adoption of horses whose racing careers have ended. Significantly, the organization recommends the programs that reinforce the concept of owner responsibility to support a secondary racehorse market.
Both the AAEP and the Jockey Club could have gone further to include the responsibility of the breeding industry in the area of foal over-production. As we have all learned the hard way, a free market economy lacking some form of oversight is not always the best way to go.
But it seems clear that the AAEP wants to be part of the solution and not the problem. And since they’re actively campaigning for cooperation and transparency within the racing industry, I’m sure the organization would have no objection with having the names of attending veterinarians printed in the past performance data right next to the owner and trainer.