Friday, April 10, 2009

A Possible Solution

With Jeff Mullins sporting the black eye of the week for Thoroughbred horse racing and fellow blogger Foolish Pleasure airing out a passionate plea for changes to our beloved sport, let me offer the following solution.

Horse racing, as we know, is supported by the bettor. Although we are abused with takeout rates that make casinos look charitable, faced with the daunting task of figuring out maiden claimers in the midst of Pick 4 sequences or just plain ignored by crappy service at too many poorly managed tracks, we still love this game and support it. 

The boycott thing will never work because a few too many us may think we've figured out the biggest payoff of our lives, and we're not going to sacrifice it for a lousy, one-day strike that will produce little or no results. Moaning and groaning on our blogs may feel cathartic, but again it won't change much. As with Foolish Pleasure, it will receive widespread support from other fans/bloggers (myself included), but not much else. 

Here's my simple solution, that unfortunately, will involve the federal government - the folks that usually create bigger messes amongst political grandstanding. The federal government allows for interstate simulcasting - something that did not exist more than 20 years ago. This is a big part of the industry, as Churchill officials can attest to after a long standing dispute with its horsemen squashed their signal for a season and track officials had to slash purses in response. In addition to slots (those magic machines that support $10,000 claimers with $20,000 purses) simulcasting (especially on line) is a place for growth in the Thoroughbred industry. One that can be manipulated to help rein the sport in.

My solution is this - use simulcasting to hold the horse racing industry's feet over the fire. By requiring the following:
  • A ban of all race day medications
  • A ban on all steroids and medications (like cobra venom) that disguise pain or enhance muscle growth
  • A ban of horse slaughter companies from entering any horse racing track or training facility
So far so good? Here's the consequences for trainers for not abiding by the rules:
  • First offense: Two week suspension from any horses being entered in any races worldwide through racing stable (including not allowing any current or future employee to enter such horses). The practice of handing over training to an assistant trainer in response to suspensions has to end now!
  • Second offense: Six month ban from training and entering horses worldwide. All horses will have to be physically handed over to another trainer not employed or to-be-employed by trainer of offense.
  • Third offense: One year ban, as mentioned above
  • Final offense: Lifetime ban from sport
For owners:
  • First offense: Acknowledging wrong doing of current trainer with consequences for having ownership, either individual or within a group, with same trainer
  • Second offense: One month ban of racing any horses worldwide for having the same trainer cited for a second time
  • Third offense: Six month ban on racing horses worldwide for having the same trainer cited for a third time
  • Fourth offense: One year ban on racing horses worldwide and horse racing license revoked for a year for same trainer sited a fourth time
  • Fifth offense: Lifetime ban from owning Thoroughbred horses in ownerships of any kind or individually for any offenses numbering five with any number of trainers (i.e. second offense with trainer A and third offense with trainer B and you're out for life).
Track consequences for not following or enforcing regulations:
  • First offense: One month ban on simulcast signal at track regardless of who owns or operates the track (to be considered 22 consecutive racing dates)
  • Second offense: Six month ban on simulcast signal (to be considered 100 consecutive racing dates)
  • Third offense: One year ban on simulcast signal (to be considered 200 consecutive racing dates)
  • Fourth offense: Lifetime revocation of simulcast signal
I know there are some kinks in this plan like:
  • Who makes sure, at the federal level, that rules and regulations are followed?
  • Does there need to be an independent drug testing facility created with all Thoroughbred tracks chipping in to create it?
  • Who pays for all the drug testing?
  • What is the appeal process for trainer, owner or track management? 
But on the whole I think such challenges can be worked out. I think the plan is simple, can easily be written (as easy as Washington pols can do such a thing) and followed. There's real teeth to it and everybody can finally be given a level playing field on which to own, train and race the Thoroughbred.

Just one man's thoughts....


  1. Great idea but the problem is that the horse racing industry won't support it because of the potential loss of substantial revenue.

    Example, Colonial Downs in Virginia only has 40 days of live racing a year, and they only have that because it's the price the Commonwealth demands in order for them to operate OTB's. Even so, it's a marginal operation at best.

    Ban the simulcast signal to the track even for a month and the track will go belly up and ALL the OTB's in Virginia will be forced to close.

    Maybe the set up in Virginia is unique in the United States, but can’t see the industry giving up even a small source of revenue considering the direction the business is going what with major players going bankrupt and all.

  2. Tvnewsbadge,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Colonial Downs may be unique. My feeling and just my feeling on this is that most tracks - besides specialized or summer retreats like Del Mar, Saratoga, Kentucky Downs and Colonial - run too many dates.

    I don't think tracks will go for it. My point was, and maybe I could have clarified it better, the feds are probably the only ones - through simulcasting - that can force the issue. Whether tracks are for it or not is not the point. Without a centralized governing body horse racing rules will always be governed differently from state-to-state. Through a federal law with monetary consequences for not following stricter drug enforcement maybe something could be done to change the game for the better. But any time we "need" the federal government to step in it's a scary thought.