The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the province’s racing regulator, is considering changes to the rules governing interference in racing, and specifically, adopting the much-discussed Category 1 interference philosophy which is used in nearly every global racing jurisdiction except the United States of America and Canada.
The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) published a white paper on the topic in November 2018, advocating for North American jurisdictions to pursue adopting Category 1, bringing to all racing stakeholders a clearer, more consistent set of rules governing in-race interference.
In an announcement on its website Tuesday, the AGCO called for interested stakeholders to offer their thoughts via a detailed survey available online, by mail or at tracks in the province.
“The AGCO is assessing the two existing in-race interference adjudication approaches that are currently used in racing jurisdictions around the world. This assessment includes a consultation process to seek input from Ontario’s horse racing industry and related stakeholders in all three breeds (Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse), as well from the public.
“The input provided to the AGCO on the different interference classification systems used globally, and any implications if Ontario were to change its regulatory approach to interference, will help to inform future changes to interference adjudication in Ontario.”
AGCO has provided a portal with significant resources for survey-takers to better understand the differences between Category 1 and the existing Category 2 standard, including an explanation of the likely outcome in the 2019 Kentucky Derby had Category 1 rules been in place.
“This is a welcome and thoughtful step from AGCO in their consideration of being the first North American jurisdiction to shift to Category 1,” said TIF Executive Director Patrick Cummings.
“No rule set is perfect, but Category 1 provides a clearer standard that will yield more consistent outcomes for all in the sport. While it is understandable that some in North American racing would be hesitant or resistant to this change, the positive experiences of recent jurisdictions to make the shift to Category 1 including Japan, France and Germany, all with massive reliance on pari-mutuel tote betting, have been well-documented and there is every reason to think that a deliberate approach to embracing a modern rule set that is used the world over – on dirt, turf and all-weather tracks – would be a success here too.”
This consideration by AGCO comes on the heels of its current two-month trial regarding crop use, underway now at Woodbine.
“Ontario, through AGCO and its industry partners, certainly seems to be taking the continental lead on modernizing our sport,” said Cummings. “These measures should be supported with full consultation from all stakeholders. Racing has, for too long, not taken itself as seriously as it should. In a highly competitive wagering environment, the sport must evolve its rules to meet the expectations of customers and the greater public.”
The model rule for Category 1, as provided by the International Harmonization of Racing Rules Committee states:
“If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge’s placings will remain unaltered.
“If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with and if not for the incident(s) the sufferer would have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the interferer will be placed immediately behind the sufferer.
“Racing Authorities may, within their Rules, provide for the disqualification of a horse from a race in circumstances in which the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body deems that the rider has ridden in a dangerous manner.”
Woodbine Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Jim Lawson has been outspoken in his support of shifting to the Category 1 standard. Following the demotion of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, Lawson was quoted by the Canadian Press on the topic and added to it on Twitter in the Derby aftermath. Woodbine’s races account for the super-majority of Ontario and overall Canadian betting handle.
Lawson, who sits on the IFHA’s Executive Council, recently offered more remarks via social media about the benefits of Category 1.
“[While] there has been merit in the debate, the time has now come, due to international wagering pools, for [North America] to move forward and adopt [Category 1], which rules have proven around the balance of the racing world to be more satisfactory to all stakeholders.”
AGCO’s online survey, and the receipt of printed responses, will be accepted through January 20, 2020.
“Following the close of the written consultation period, the AGCO will hold a limited number of in-person or teleconference meetings with interested stakeholders to discuss the feedback and comments received,” the regulatory agency noted on its website.
The topic is also on the agenda for next week's Model Rules Committee meeting of the Association of Racing Commissioners International in Tucson, Arizona.
"It's unclear at this stage what the Model Rules Committee is going to do, and it is worth questioning whether some of the American jurisdictions are prepared to go this far towards considering adopting the international Category 1 standard as a model rule," said Cummings, "but this public consultation period undertaken by Ontario is an exciting next step.
"Whenever this continent decides to move forward on Category 1, and I'm quite confident that it will at some point, a thoughtful, deliberate transition will be needed to prepare stakeholders for the shift. The three most recent countries to shift took roughly one year to educate their local industry. While uniform, concurrent adoption across North America is practically impossible, a slow shift that engages all participants makes sense and would yield an improved product for all."