The Horse Race Insider is a privately owned magazine. All copyrights reserved. “Bet with your head, not over it.”

The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


LOS ANGELES–In her Brooklyn Backstretch blog, “Breeders’ Cup shows sport I love – and hate,” Teresa Genaro provided some moving insight on how difficult it is to continue embracing the game given its lack of cooperative and united leadership in the absence of uniform regulation:

“The future of the industry seems to be in the hands of people who don’t spend a lot of time at the racetrack, and the fact that that is really the industry’s own fault is a bitter irony…

She questioned whether “… Those of who participate in it implicitly endorse it as ethical. Or … acknowledge…hypocrisy? denial? wishful thinking?—that allows me to wrestle with my concerns about horses’ welfare, especially as that welfare is in the hands of an industry that so often proves itself to be haplessly, carelessly arrogant and unaccountable, preferring, time to time, to close ranks,  stifle criticism and to keep quiet and hope that nobody notices what’s really going on…”

Like Ms. Genaro, I was completely focused on the winner of the BC Classic, and missed the actual breakdown on the live telecast. It wasn’t clear whether her short-lived enthusiasm was also wager-enhanced.

Personally, I was distracted because I was alive in multiple horizontal exotics singling him in the final leg and what is the Breeders’ Cup if not the world’s best two-day betting extravaganza.

Consequently, I was initially spared the blunt of the devastation experienced by most when the news of the breakdown and its video review were presented.

In its aftermath, however, the loss of joy and celebration — too rarely experienced — can culminate despite painstaking prediction and cautious optimism, was palpable. Ms. Genaro’s piece moved me to unlock my own emotions regarding my future participation in a pastime that produces increasingly less pleasure in its pursuit.

Frankly, I felt robbed of the sustaining satisfaction that for me — as a recreational bettor — transcends both my infrequent financial successes and repeated failures.

If that comes off as “crying all the way to the bank,” it doesn’t reflect my investment of time and enthusiasm when handicapping, betting, and viewing (including pre-race activity without audio distraction) the races that pique my interest. But I digress.

It is indeed sad to see a form of entertainment woven into a way of life that is in danger of ending because there’s no cure for greed. The only aspects of high finance that have “trickled down” to racing from the real world are unbridled capitalism at the very top and political obstruction everywhere.

I have no tears to spare for on-track equine deaths while humans perish in mass shootings or live in inhumane circumstances that prevail among the underprivileged in the wealthiest country in the world.

Having made little impact on the latter, Senator Feinstein and Governor Newsom of California have inserted themselves into the former with limited awareness of the extent to which racing requires and can benefit from meaningful reform.

What angers me most, however, is the sense of entitlement and power wielded by horsemen, track operators, state regulators and even professional bettors that too often results in maintaining the status quo.

Consider the track, bet takers and state regulators who fail to hammer out uniform rules of racing and wagering, opting instead to consistently tweak those currently in effect.

Not only have they failed to properly police the game, they’ve instituted practices such as rebating that funnels money to deep-pocketed and/or professional bettors at the expense of recreational players, their core audience.

I wasn’t surprised by a rumor that whispered the new handle record set on BC Saturday was achieved with the aid of enhanced rebates offered by The Stronach Group to select bettors.

It galls many of us non-rebated players to be charged usurious takeout rates by bet-takers in order to offset the revenue they divert to rebated players. Another prevalent rumor is that rebates are not taxable. Consequently, high-volume bettors can accumulate profits that are unattainable directly from parimutuel pools just like the rest of us.

I’ve read that weekday handle now predominantly reflects the handle of rebated players since most stakes races are relegated to weekends. If that’s true, then racing at its lowest levels — where it likely involves its most infirm competitors — is conducted primarily for their consumption.

How does that benefit the industry, the sport but mostly the welfare of the animal?

When one further considers the variations of fraud perpetrated on some horse buyers by some horse sellers—we acknowledge this is an old story– how can one genuinely expect ethical treatment of animals in the absence of its practice on humans?

The Breeders’ Cup tragedy will surely be portrayed ad nauseam that authorities fiddled while Mongolian Groom burned. The Breeders’ Cup supported Santa Anita and took a gamble. The issue has exploded beyond “zero tolerance” versus “verified prevention.”

Videos of the horse’s workouts strongly suggested that he was unsound yet escaped the observations of any of 30 vets and Santa Anita’s Chief Veterinary Officer who has the power to scratch any horse at any time for whatever reason.

Eight did not pass the exam, but one more should have failed.

Perhaps Santa Anita is waiting for the findings of Dr. Bramlage’s investigation to be published before banishing Enebish Ganbat to the TSG purgatory along with Jerry Hollendorfer.

Until such proof can be presented, all trainers should be subjected to enhanced scrutiny from which no one should be exempt. Meanwhile, what now?

The only way to get states and racetrack owners to achieve reform cooperatively is to force them to but only the Federal Government has that authority.

I believe the Feds should suspend simulcast betting everywhere until industry stakeholders define and implement a single nationwide regulatory body that would implement uniform rules subject to Congressional approval and legislative support.

The function, structure, representation, and funding of such a body could be determined in a process resembling a modern-day constitutional convention. Membership, staffing, and objectives could be approved by stakeholders at various stages as is necessary.

Once the Interstate Horseracing Act has been amended or replaced to enable a new central racing authority agreed to by the industry and ratified by legislation would simulcasting be allowed to resume.

There must be total transparency from day one. Perhaps California’s progressive but appallingly pro-PETA politicians can be convinced to position themselves behind meaningful racing reform, one that minimizes abuse by any of its participants.

Facebook Share
Twitter Share
LinkedIn Share

⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

12 Responses

  1. I am in synch with your overall sentiments but the thirst for federal intervention loses me.
    Think of the size of the new bureaucracy it would entail. Where would racing get that many qualified individuals? Ergo we would wind up with career bureaucrats policing a sport about which they know little. You’re seeing a microcosm of that in California.
    Standardized drug testing is one thing. Overall control is a non-starter for me.
    For this to have even a long shot chance, there would have to unanimity among all facets of the industry.
    Moreover, other than some members of the media and bettors, there is no great call for this.
    Show me a track calling for it. The 600 horsemen who signed the pro-Lasix petition would work against it.
    Instead of wish fulfillment we should be working for the biggest reform that can be achieved—repeal of the provision that gives horsemen the ability to stop simulcasting.

  2. There’s no question that federal intervention would add a level of bureaucracy. TJ is right when he posits that bottom-line sign-off by trainers who can stop simulcasting in its tracks by law must be, at the very least, rewritten if not eliminated.

    But how often do we have to see the results of current medication and rules enforcement at the state level adjudicated by racing stakeholders? It doesn’t work and will never work. The conflicts of interests within the current patchwork of regulation cannot be overcome without oversight.

    Oversight doesn’t mean total control; it means just what the word says it means, oversight.

  3. TJ,
    The idea is not to create a large bureaucracy, but to eventually do the job better with fewer people overall who are working transparently, cooperatively, and with consistency for the greater good.

    The States that would benefit from simulcasting would have to fund a substantial portion, especially in the beginning stages, but it should eventually cost them less than running their own commissions while revenue might even increase under new leadership.

    There would probably be an increase in security and investigative personnel, along with record keeping staff, but fewer executives and other redundant positions. Most changes would initially take place at the higher levels. The should still be some experience, knowledge, and talent among existing regulatory employees that with proper support, direction, and promotion would do their jobs well.

    States and tracks that want simulcasting will do the heavy lifting. The trick will be to maintain the priority of integrity from the top down.

    As JP pointed out, what we have isn’t working and never will. If you have a different approach we could all explore, why not share it in Ante Post?

    In the meantime, why not humor me and pretend the Feds have indeed decided to suspend simulcasting, and tell us where you would look for new executive material?

  4. The only Federal intervention needed is to rewrite the interstate horse racing act to include minimum standards of safety for horses and jockeys AND Consumer protections for Gamblers. Any track that can’t meet the standards can’t take out of state wagers which the Feds can do.

    It would require compromise and I am for getting rid of 90% of the medications but see no need to get rid of lasix right now. Compromise with 5cc’s like they do in California.

    And there should be a provision that adjustments to the IHA can be made each year to improve on the minimum standards.

    Handle and horses would be concentrated on less venues. That’s a very good thing IMO

  5. Andrew, the suggestions you put forth are quite sensible. I do not know if a simple rewrite would suffice and the fact that the Feds hold a simulcast hammer is important but not until and unless the HBPA is prevented from lording over the industry vis a vis simulcasting.

    A 5% Lasix compromise is not ideal, but if attached to that is an agreement to gradually phase Lasix out, that could unlock the stalemate. But you are calling on this industry to compromise and work with each other. That’s a big ask that has gone unheeded lo’ these many years.


  6. Apart from wmcorrow (see Pricci/Jicha postings) who claims to win on all continents, your “infrequent financial success” rings true. Also liked your “wager-enhanced.” Sort of like saying a good meal was appetite-enhanced, ha, ha.

    1. Not a knock on wmcorrow and his affinity for mid-Atlantic, lesser known tracks, as well as the occasional Fosters to celebrate another winning outing but rather an opportunity to comment on your well-written opinion piece here at HRI. With Jicha stepping aside I found myself checking you out. Good stuff.

  7. ms,
    Thanks for the kind words. It’s always nice to be “discovered,” though completely understandable.

    Few are capable of contributing the insider perspective and behind-the-scenes details that Mark Berner provided in gut-wrenching fashion, or the sophisticated combination of humor, irony, philosophy, and ideology that Tom Jicha brought to the table.

    Even fewer can deliver the insight, inspiration, and rationally fair-minded leadership that John Pricci brings to his role as horseplayer advocate and racing reform activist.

    As TJ recently pointed out, an opinion piece one feels worthy of sharing generally requires expenditure of time and thought to produce. The frustration one experiences when the response is dismissal in a flurry of off-topic rhetoric, or meritless criticism, or worse — no response at all — can be a tremendous disincentive to contributing. On the other hand, initiating a discussion that rises to the level of informed debate is akin to hitting both horizontal and vertical exotics simultaneously. LOL

    Now that more people may be spending time with their noses outside their PPs, it would be great to see some fresh proposals for new solutions arising from the HRI faithful.

  8. Not versed enough in horseracing to come up with fresh proposals but promise to keep reading. Your descriptions of Mark, TJ and John’s writing also applies to you. Thank you for responding.

  9. I blog frequently and I truly appreciate your content. Your article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to book mark your website and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *