Following the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation's call for stakeholder groups within the industry to pursue compromise, "A New Way Forward" offers the opinions of five industry leaders over five different areas. If we can work together to move beyond that which has divided us for so long, the ideas presented in this series present a glimpse into a more prosperous future for the sport.
Maggi Moss is an attorney and prominent horse owner, having led all American owners in wins in 2006. She is also a tireless advocate for improving aftercare initiatives in the sport.
Integrity and Welfare
By: Maggi Moss
The disconnect between racing's stakeholders has, unfortunately, never been clearer.
The perceived lack of integrity in racing and worse, the welfare of our equine athletes, certainly feels to be at an all-time low. Read public comments about racing and it is easy to find a rising sentiment that the sport is cruel and lacks protection for its most necessary participants – the horses.
All of this occurs in an industry that, frustratingly, lacks uniformity.
Despite a “happy face” worn by many, racing in America suffers from a widespread number of jurisdictions which seemingly do little to protect the integrity of racing, and sadly, the horses themselves. A “win at all cost” climate, studded with rampant rumors of cheating, creates an uneven playing field which undermines customer confidence. With the decades-long growth in the casino business, and now legalized sports betting, it is easier than ever to pass over the challenge of betting on racing.
These threats to our business, many of which have grown over the years without much response from those identified as racing’s leaders, cannot be allowed to persist. Now is a perfect time to come together and blaze a new path forward.
Make no mistake, there can be no “us v. them” when it comes to integrity in racing. We all must be on the side of improving the integrity functions of our sport – from the breeding shed to the auction house and from the track to post-race rehoming. The ideas suggested below to improve integrity and welfare are not complex, but will require a unified effort from industry stakeholders. Here are six solutions:
1. Veterinary records, transparent to all, should follow each horse from their first start.
Vet records should be publicly transparent. Horse racing operates under direct license from the states. Without that license, the sport would be a shell of itself. States have the power to mandate this transparency, which would serve as a massive advance to counter perceptions and realities around cheating. Let racing’s customers – owners and horseplayers – interpret what they will from public veterinary records.
2. Pre-race veterinary exams should be mandated for all starters.
All racetracks must employ veterinarians to perform soundness checks, beyond a normal “jog-up,” for every horse entered to run. These official vets would also have access to the veterinary records of each horse and would be empowered to diagnose unsoundness without fear of reprisal. With the future of the sport at stake, failing to ensure the sound health of our sport’s foundation is beyond comprehension. This most basic necessity should be the norm.
3. Launch a network of welfare officers.
A continent-wide network of welfare officers, with one stationed at every active racetrack, would serve in several capacities. First, welfare officers would serve the racing office as a check on the bona fides of every entry. Long-time racing followers know of the many examples seen over the years – a horse returning from a three-year layoff with a limited worktab; a horse that has been repeatedly trounced now inexplicably stepping up in condition. Welfare officers would also be a track’s official point of contact for aftercare programs and regularly survey the local horse population for possible or pending retirements, tracking such horses off the track via a continental database to follow all horses in their off-track careers.
4. Equine Injury Database participation should be mandatory across North America.
A major step towards improving the long-term health of the horse, and therefore our sport, is to have complete transparency on the type and frequency of injuries, particularly catastrophic ones, which occur during a race or training. No racetrack should be able to escape public scrutiny – sunshine is the best disinfectant.
5. Breeders, auction purchasers and tracks (via purse accounts) should be responsible to withhold amounts to supplement aftercare initiatives.
The cost of caring for racehorses when their racing career comes to an end must be shared across the industry. At each point of a horse’s career – from foaling (breeders) to auctions (buyers/pinhookers) and owners throughout their on-track years, contributions should be made to help defray the costs of retirement for thoroughbreds. All racetracks should withhold a small portion of purses to be contributed towards an account to fund each horse’s post-racing careers. Auction houses would handle the transactions through their sales while The Jockey Club would oversee the collection of funds from breeders of newly-registered foals.
6. The use of joint injections and electric shock wave therapies should be far more controlled than at current levels.
Policies which concentrate merely on regulating or eliminating Lasix are woefully inadequate to deal with the status-quo, where less-regulated treatments could potentially cause much more harm. Nationwide limits should be adopted to limit joint injections to no closer than 60 days from a race and 90 days for shock wave therapy.
These six suggestions represent a significant, unified improvement over the current rules and integrity situation in our sport. We must leave racing better off than when we found it.