The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) approved Tuesday significant amendments to regulations which will improve measures of transparency around rules violations.
The changes will likely take effect late in 2022 or early 2023 after a public comment period and other administrative steps.
Under previous regulations, the KHRC required all stewards’ and judges’ hearings to be closed and no public announcement could be made by the KHRC regarding the topics of such hearings until the hearings concluded and a ruling was issued.
Such a requirement enabled situations like that in 2021 where trainer Bob Baffert was free to discuss details of Medina Spirit’s positive test in the Kentucky Derby – he and owner Amr Zedan being the only two formally notified by the KHRC of the positive sample – while the Commission remained silent for approximately nine months.
Once a hearing was held and a ruling issued, only then could the KHRC could engage publicly.
Such requirements are incredibly insufficient from any regulator in the modern day and the KHRC has duly recognized that.
Under the revised regulations, the KHRC or its executive director can reveal a variety of details about cases, including in instances where information about a violation is first disclosed by the participant – a reference that seems specific to the experience of the Medina Spirit case.
In the Medina Spirit case, before a split sample laboratory was even selected and the sample sent for testing, Baffert conducted a plethora of media interviews about the case, all while the KHRC could say nothing.
In future circumstances, such an act by the licensee would trigger the KHRC’s ability to speak publicly as well, even before the split sample results were known.
The KHRC also added a catch-all that allows them to disclose information publicly “for other reasons in the best interests of racing.”
Further, and perhaps most interestingly, hearings conducted by stewards and judges relating to rules violations will be open to the public unless laws requiring the protection of certain details of a case are under consideration.
Stewards holding a hearing for a jockey charged with careless riding? That hearing will be open – to the public, media, and potentially even live-streamed.
“The actions of the commissioners of the KHRC and its staff are to be applauded by all stakeholders across racing,” said Patrick Cummings, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation.
“After what was a testing year, the insufficiency of existing protocols became clear and the KHRC acted decisively to adopt a new way forward to embrace transparency and bolster public confidence.
“TIF encourages other states, as well as the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, to follow Kentucky’s lead in serving the greater public interest through open, transparent proceedings.”
The specific details of the amendments as passed by the KHRC are below. The underlined portion is new to the KHRC regulations.
Section 1. Public Disclosures
(1) The commission or its executive director may publicly disclose information regarding an alleged violation if such information will not unduly impact any investigation.
(a) After notice to the racing participant, the commission or its executive director may publicly disclose the identity of any racing participant who is accused of an alleged regulatory violation and the identity of the horse at issue;
(b) After commission and racing participant receive testing results pursuant to 810 KAR 10 8:010 and 810 KAR 8:060, the commission or its executive director may publicly disclose the alleged conduct or the alleged amount and type of the medication, drug, or substance that gave rise to the alleged regulatory violation; or
(c) At any time, the commission or its executive director may publicly disclose the date of an upcoming stewards’ hearing; or
(d) At any time, the commission or its executive director may publicly disclose other information as deemed appropriate.
(2) Situations giving rise to the disclosure of information by the commission or its executive director may include the following:
(a) Information pertaining to an alleged regulatory violation has been previously publicly disclosed by the racing participant;
(b) In the case of an alleged medication violation, if the commission’s laboratory has returned a positive finding and the racing participant has been notified of the results of split sample pursuant to 810 KAR 8:010;
(c) In the case of a medication violation, if the commission’s laboratory has returned a positive finding and the racing participant has not exercised his or her right to further laboratory testing; or
(d) For other reasons in the best interests of racing.
Section 2. Stewards’ and Judges’ Hearings.
(1) A stewards’ or judge’s hearing, as applicable, shall be conducted by a state steward or a state judge unless waived in writing by the party charged with the violation. A stewards’ or judges’ hearing shall be conducted no more than sixty (60) days after either:
(a) the racing participant is notified of an alleged violation, or
(b) if the racing participant requests split laboratory results, the date on which the participant receives those results.
(2) The stewards or judges may extend the 60-day deadline in their sole discretion, upon demonstration of exigent circumstances.
(3) At least two (2) stewards or judges must be present at all times during the hearing.
All three (3) stewards or judges shall review the evidence and testimony prior to issuing a ruling.
A ruling shall be made by all three (3) stewards or judges sitting in the matter.
(4) A party charged with a violation other than a routine riding offense occurring in a race shall be given written notice of the stewards’ or judges’ hearing, unless waived in writing by the party charged.
(5) Public attendance at stewards’ and judges’ hearings is allowed. Nothing in this section limits the authority of the presiding stewards or judges to order closure of a hearing or to make other protective orders to the extent necessary or proper to satisfy the United States Constitution, the Kentucky Constitution, federal or state statute, or other law, such as laws protecting privileged, confidential, or other protected information.