Twenty-five of the NHBPA’s 32 affiliates strode into the South Point Casino in Las Vegas for a robust conversation on the current state-of-affairs in the thoroughbred industry. Everything was on the table for discussion and the mood was up-beat and positive.
Topics included horse after-care, ADWs and slots (instant racing), drug testing and enforcement, and the results of the National HBPA elections.
The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance kicked off the convention with their presentation titled, “The TAA: Protecting Your Investment in Retirement.”
The TAA was launched in 2012, with the goal of getting a fragmented industry to pull together for the common good by accrediting organizations involved in the retirement, retraining and adoption of retired racehorses. The organization raises and provides funding for those organizations meeting its rigorous accreditation standards, which is now up to 64 throughout North America.
“If we don’t take care of our own industry, we will get the helping hand–and I’m very sarcastic–of the government,” said prominent owner-breeder Madeline Auerbach, an aftercare pioneer in California and a member of the TAA’s executive committee. “
Speakers included Joell Dunlap, founder of Square Peg Foundation in northern California. Square Peg uses off-the-track Thoroughbreds to work with developmentally challenged children. Thanks to TAA funding her organization grew from helping 30 to now 60 families with autistic children.
Trainer Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky HBPA and a vice president of the National HBPA, spoke about an exciting partnership forged among the horsemen, Churchill Downs, Keeneland and the TAA. Together they created an innovative, voluntary program that makes it convenient for horse owners to donate $5 for each starter, with Churchill and Keeneland matching the amount. This has resulted in hefty $170,000 going to the TAA and its accredited programs over the past two years.
The take away? Taking care of Thoroughbreds after their racing careers have ended not only is the right thing to do for the horse, but the right thing for owners and trainers to do for their business.
Michele Fischer a Vice President with Sportech spoke about the meteoric growth in online and mobile wagering. Due to the incredible explosion in smartphone and tablet use among all demographics, Fischer estimates that 35 to 40% of handle on American racing now is conducted through Advance Deposit Wagering platforms via computer, phone and mobile devices.
Horsemen get a much smaller percent from a dollar wagered through an ADW, typically 3 or 4 cents, versus a ballpark figure of 12 cents derived for purses through a track’s mutuel windows.
“It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a shift in the way our society is,” Fischer said. She cautioned however that the industry is price sensitive on both sides.
“I work primarily with racetracks, OTBs, ADWs providing them services,” she said. “So I’m really aware what they face trying to make the numbers work. And I grew up in the horse racing industry, I’ve owned horses and understand how challenging it is to make money. What we all have to remember, for any sport, the more points of distribution we have the better–the more places and eyeballs on our sport. That’s one thing we need to work toward: having racing in every bar, having racing up in every restaurant you go in, versus just in a few places.”
“We have got to put this power into play. Continued status quo will mean the continued decline of our industry,” said National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback.
Another way to bring in more revenue has been instant-racing slot machines. Instant racing is based on historical horse racing that can provide the feel of playing a slot machine but which utilizes pari-mutuel technology–offers the highest purses in North America for maiden and allowance races and paid out $7.8 million for last year’s five-date meet. The machines have been very successful at Kentucky Downs.
In an agreement with the Kentucky HBPA, Kentucky Downs was able to transfer $1.35 million to Ellis Park’s purse account, resulting in that track’s best season in years.
Corey Johnsen, a horseman as well as the president and part-owner of Kentucky Downs said the Kentucky HBPA, before anyone knew what historical horse racing might generate, helped out by agreeing to loan back part of the horsemen’s cut from the first year of historical horse racing back to invest in the facility.
The later panel on horsemens’ relations featured Corey Johnsen, Canterbury Park co-owner Randy Sampson and Mike Rogers, president of The Stronach Group’s Racing and Gaming Division.
Rogers explained how Gulfstream Park’s relationship with its horsemen helped it prevail in a heated battle over summer racing dates with Churchill Downs Inc., owner of what was then known as Calder. He said those races are now held at Gulfstream Park and attracting two or three times as much betting.
While Sampson illustrated why horsemen should work with their track on legislation and regulatory issues, marketing and backside spending. He said tracks are not encouraged to spend money on marketing ventures to drive increased handle and capital improvement when they put up all the money but then split resulting revenue.
Dr. Andy Roberts, a racetrack veterinarian who is on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s Equine Drug Research Council, gave a presentation titled “Out of Competition Testing: The Promise, the Pitfalls from a Veterinary Perspective.”
Roberts said he thought the ARCI model rule adopted in 2007 was a perfectly fine rule (see our article FHBPA CALLS FOR UNIFORM MEDICATION PENALTIES ) , one adopted by about half of ARCI’s member commissions. He said that rule was intended for blood-doping agents, designer anabolic steroids and gene-doping. Model rules are those drafted and approved by ARCI with the goal of being implemented in individual jurisdictions across the country.
However, the new model rule expands the 2007 proposal “far beyond what I would consider to be the legitimate boundaries,” Roberts said. “For starters, this rule includes a number of therapeutic medications that many of us use on a daily basis. It could result in looking for crimes that don’t exist,” he continued.
He also used the painkiller lidocaine as an example of a drug that theoretically could be the target of out-of-competition testing because it is not specifically approved for use in horses, “although anybody who is sewing fillies up in Lexington has a bottle of lidocaine on their truck” to use on horses who are not racing for some weeks, he said.
While Roberts said he doesn’t think the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is going to bust a veterinarian for that, “the law is the law. I think we need to make the law reflect reality.”
Roberts said he’s also troubled by a provision that “other biological official test samples” could be required.
Dr. Thomas Tobin, the veterinarian and University of Kentucky equine pharmacologist and toxicologist, gave a crash course on hair makeup and how testing works. Among his points: the process is considerably more time-consuming than testing urine or blood, it requires a washing step and protocols for testing procedures for horses are lacking. Also: white hair will show much less of many drugs than dark hair.
Because the process can reveal the presence of some drugs for more than a year, mane and tail hair are preferred over the short body hair. An advantage in hair testing is that the sample doesn’t require refrigeration and can be retained indefinitely when stored in a dark and dry area at room temperature.
Tobin said caveats include that a single dose of a drug with a short half-life might not be sufficient for hair detection. It also requires a relatively long hair segment and that some medications spread out in growing hair more than others, making it difficult to approximate when a substance was administered.
Four seats were up for votes in the Executive Committee elections. The results are as follows:
Joe Davis, president of the Indiana HBPA, was elected as National Officer, Central Region Vice President, fulfilling the term of the late Tom Metzen Sr.
Also: Colorado HBPA president Kent Bamford and Virginia HBPA president David Ross
Re-elected: Nebraska HBPA president Barry Lake and Washington HBPA president Patrick LePley
Alternates: Finger Lakes president David Brown and Mountaineer HBPA president Jami Poole
National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback celebrated the energy of the event: “It was a wonderful convention. We had excellent feedback on the panels, excellent feedback on the presentations we had. The venue at horse-friendly South Point was very good. All and all, I think people really saw this as what I hoped it to be: an educational opportunity for all our horsemen to learn about various topics and different aspects and planning for the future.”
Coverage of the panels and presentations held March 8-10 was sent out to the national media and is posted on nationalhbpa.com. A recap will also appear in the spring issue of The Horsemen’s Journal.