Drugs in racing - should there be federal regulation?
A third snapped, “For more than 28 years, you have been telling us that you’d fix this problem and it hasn’t happened; why should we think you can do it, now?” Finally, another demanded, “We don’t know the ins and outs of your industry, how do you to expect us to make a decision if everyone comes in here and says something different?” Unless you’ve been in Siberia for the past few months, you’ve ascertained by now that I’m talking about the recent hearings in the U.S. Congress about drugs in racing and whether or not the Interstate Horseracing Act should be amended to provide that the federal government take over control of the chaos that comprises the current drug and medication policies of horse racing. The consensus among the industry representatives who testified at those hearings was, in short, that there is no consensus. And the answer to the obvious question of “Who’s in charge here?” was “no one”—although NTRA President Alex Waldrop did attempt a brave imitation of his namesake Alexander Haig’s notorious pronouncement, “I’m in charge here,” but was forced to admit later that the NTRA is only in charge insofar as “building a consensus” is concerned, just like The Jockey Club and other organizations in the business which the normal person would assume would “be in charge.” My friend Arthur Hancock, one of the Thoroughbred fraternity’s smartest, most articulate spokesmen, attributed our problems to a lack of leadership. “We are a rudderless ship,” he said, “and the way we are going, we will end up on the rocks…We are too fragmented and too diverse. We are composed of too many ‘fiefdoms,’ and each one is led by a Nero-like chieftain, who had rather do things his way than help the cause as a whole.” I have to take a little credit for the change of direction which concludes that assessment, because, when Arthur and I first began debating all this, it was his position that the industry’s problems were the result of a lack of leadership, whereas I am unalterably convinced that our problem is not a lack of leadership but too much leadership. As of this writing, we have 183 separate organizations in Thoroughbred racing alone. That’s 183 separate egos. 183 separate agendas. 183 separate jealousies. 183 separate suspicions. 183 separate fears. 183 separate paranoias. To quote an obscure gospel song I heard years ago, “Nobody wants to play rhythm guitar for Jesus; everybody wants to be the leader of the band.” It’s probably inherent in the nature of our game, really, that nobody seems to want to cooperate with each other, but it’s exceedingly distressing to me that we seem to have reached the point where many of the organizations and most of the individuals to whom we look for leadership would rather see the entire business go down in flames than cooperate with one of their competitors. With 183 rudders all pointing in different directions, we have two possible outcomes—at best, we’ll be dead in the water; at worst, we’ll be breaking apart on the rocks. All that having been said, agreement in racing is not necessarily an impossible dream. There was one time when the whole industry came together, and, coincidentally, it resulted in the very same Interstate Horseracing Act which is back on the front burner today. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. It took more than 2½ years of hard work, tough negotiations and cooperation between people who were more inclined to detest each other than to cooperate. It was an alliance, not just of the organizations in the Thoroughbred industry, but of the entire pari-mutuel industry, including Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, Greyhounds, OTB interests, etc. I think it’s another failing of people in the Thoroughbred industry that we tend to underestimate the intelligence and level of influence of those who are not involved in our discipline. One of the astounding corollaries of the effort to pass the Interstate Horseracing Act was that we of the Thoroughbred industry discovered that there are a whole lot of smart, powerful and politically-astute people in the world who are not involved in the Thoroughbred business, and, without them, we never could have gotten the Interstate Horseracing Act passed. So, when the industry went before Congress, we spoke with one voice and got the deed done. In short, it has happened once, and it can happen again. What will it take? Sure, we could form another coalition, but that would require more than 100 fiefdoms to surrender a measure of their autonomy, and, trust me, they are not going to do that to an entity which is perceived to be advancing the agenda of any particular individual or group, an entity which is perceived to have a bone in any of these squabbles. It would take years, if not decades, to build the trust and cooperation necessary to diffuse the detritus of years of turf battles between our fiefdoms. If we are to have any chance at all to generate a consensus that would enable us to prevent federal intervention on the issue of medication and drugs in the horse business, I would suggest that the only ones to do it would be the ones who accomplished it 38 years ago—the American Horse Council. With all due respect to the other “consensus builders,” the AHC is the only organization which has an established reputation of fairness and objectivity toward all participants in the horse business, whatever their interest is; it is the only organization which has successfully convinced the other disciplines in the industry to help racing achieve something positive for it before; it is the only organization with a record of success in an endeavor of this type. In short, it’s time to face up to the fact that we need a trusted, impartial leader to guide us through these troubled waters. We had better pick one, and fast.