Thursday, August 21, 2008

Priccis' Report of the RoundTable Meeting

Jockey Club Lacks Needed Sense of Urgency
John Pricci, Horserace Insider
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Saratoga Springs, NY, August 19, 2008--I’m not as smart as I think but smart enough to know this much: Might doesn’t only not make right but it doesn’t necessarily make smart either.

Making recommendations is no guarantor of making progress, or that the recommendations will solve a problem any better than it treats a symptom. Which brings us to Sunday’s Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing, a Saratoga tradition since 1954.

The annual gathering is not really a round table at all. By definition, people sitting around a circular table means that all participants are created equal and that actual dialogue might be taking place. I was not in attendance, but I found the substance of the Round Table meeting at

Photo by: Toni Pricci
Dinny Phipps is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately
Indeed, if there were, literally, a Jockey Club table, it would be anything but round. Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps is clearly the poohbah de tutti poohbah, standing at a podium and introducing hand-picked speakers to enlighten the august body, the details of which eventually trickle down to the rest of us who may be lost in a sea of mutuel tickets.

While no one questions the motives of the organization that has as its mission “the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing,” Sunday’s exercise called for more R & D when one would have thought that by now, with Congress lurking since June, racing’s leaders would be farther along in the process.

None of the recommendations were bad ideas. Quite the contrary. It’s just seems a tad late in the game to first develop a business plan for the most efficient and cost-effective infrastructure for equine drug testing and research; the development of testing laboratory standards; development of a request for proposals requiring adherence to standards established by the state racing commissions and, finally, the development and maintenance of a facility to store frozen samples for future analysis.

Drug testing is currently being done by 18 laboratories throughout the United States, the other issue being that drug rules differ in the 38 jurisdictions those labs monitor. It’s a huge, complicated issue.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s too bad it had to take the running of the 2008 Kentucky Derby to get this ball rolling.

Among other recommendations made were the immediate adoption and implementation by all racing commissions of the RCI Model Rule on Uniform Classification Guidelines and Penalties that apply to trainers, veterinarians and owners, its implementation to be adopted no later than by the end of the year.

As it specifically regards “milkshaking”--a performance-enhancing practice via the use of alkalinizing agents--the committee calls for the overall prohibition of the use of all alkalinizing substances, as recommended under the auspices of Racing Commissioners International, calling for its implementation by requesting that Thoroughbred Tracks in North America “consider implementation… by ‘house rule’.”

Other suggestions are that racing associations, training facilities and individual licensees participate in a commission-approved injury reporting database, whereby interested parties collaborate on the development of standardized protocols and procedures for pre-race, post-race and post mortem exams.

According to the Jockey Club website, Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of the Thoroughbred Safety Committee, said that “medication issues continue to haunt this industry and they are and will continue to be a priority for this committee as evidenced by several of today’s recommendations. We once again vigorously encourage the respective industry organizations to act on these recommendations in a timely manner.”

To its credit, the Jockey Club has launched a dedicated section containing all Safety Committee recommendations and resulting actions on its home page at, and a transcript of the conference is now available.

In addition to recommendations, several speakers presented the results of studies challenging criticisms of the racing industry since the Eight Belles tragedy. Matt Iuliano, Vice President of Jockey Club registration services, challenged claims that modern practices have weakened the breed.

Iuliano said that pedigree research conducted by the Jockey Club appeared to reveal that no one sire line is responsible for producing horses with a higher degree of unsoundness, and that essentially there was no increase in unsoundness leading to the decline of field size in the last 47 years from more than 11 horses to just over 6.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, a familiar figure to Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup viewers, challenged the notion that two-year-old racing contributes to unsoundness or catastrophic injury. Bramlage presented data indicating that horses which race at 2 run more often with more average earnings per start than horses debuting at 3.

How are racing’s customers supposed to perceive this, as progress, or statistical spin? How will Congress respond to the “progress” this represents? Legislators already are at work on a bill certain to rock industry. But what can racing do when Congress holds simulcasting hostage? No simulcasting; no game.

Isn’t the recommendation to adopt RCI Model Rules old news? Wasn’t milkshaking dealt with definitively years ago? Don’t hear much about milkshaking these days. My fault, or the fault of an industry not known for its transparency?

And so the organization whose charter it is to improve thoroughbred racing and breeding is asking the tracks to consider implementation of their recommendations by house rule. “Consider?” It further wants implementation of a commission-approved injury reporting database using standardized protocols. And this is new news, too? Mary Scollay, D.V.M., has wanted to do this for years. How overdue is it? Ten years, fifty?

The “medication issue continues to haunt the industry and will continue to be a priority as evidenced by several of today’s recommendations,” said Janney. But nary a mention of permissive medications: Butazolidin, an analgesic that allows horses to compete while “racing sound”; Lasix, the granddaddy of masking agents.

Clearly, horses need therapeutic and/or prophylactic treatment. They just don’t need it on race day. But there were no mentions of moving current withdrawal periods or-- heaven forbid someday--a possible return to hay, oats, and two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.

The fact that no one sire is responsible for the spate of recent breakdowns ignores all empirical knowledge. Just as speed horses beget speed horses and turf horses beget grass runners and even as certain sires transmit track-specific aptitudes to their offspring, so, too, does inherently unsound horses produce runners with a predisposition to unsoundness.

In the sales marketplace, as everyone knows, talented, accomplished runners are retired prematurely. But somehow we must believe that the owners of Raise a Native and Danzig, to name two phenomenally pre-potent studs, wanted to retire those amazing speed merchants to the breeding shed after only a handful of starts?

Of course, research will show horses that race at 2 earned more money on average than horses debuting at 3. Well, not only is there a ton of purse money available to modern-day juveniles but debuting three-year-olds are horses that, whatever the reason, can't make a start at 2.

If horses could race at 2, they would. Late developers lacking juvenile foundation and seasoning are left behind the developmental curve at 3, hence the lower earnings. It’s the same principle that makes the yearlings which are allowed to romp in their paddocks--as opposed to hot-house sales types--better two-year-olds. It was a specious argument, unworthy of those who would improve the breed.

Christine A Jubic says:

21 Aug 2008 at 08:21 am | #


I was just wondering if there was any mention at the Roundtable Meeting of the one-woman protester standing outside the hotel with her signs saying how “The Dorf” makes “The Horseracing Hall of Shame” by running a foundered horse (Heavenly Perfect) and then selling her off to slaughter? If you didnt hear about it there, I guess they are trying to cover it up, but you can read all about it here;

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