By: Tom LaMarra
At a meeting that again featured a discussion on the importance of improving integrity in horse racing, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission Jan. 26 approved revisions to the Multiple Medication Violation Penalty System.
Pennsylvania adopted the MMV Penalty System, a component of the National Uniform Medication Program, in August 2016. The model rule was updated by the Association of Racing Commissioners International to help facilitate passage in more states.
The penalty structure for the most serious medication violations remain in place under the new rule, which allows a range for suspension days rather a set number of days in response to concerns voiced by state attorneys general.
Pennsylvania joins Delaware, Maryland, and New York in acting on the MMV revisions since the ARCI approved them. In New York, the rules are subject to a comment period before the New York State Gaming Commission takes action.
In response to a question from member Dr. Corrine Sweeney, the PHRC will take advantage of statutory permission that will allow it to put in place such model rule changes as they are issued by ARCI and then ratify them later.
Before the regular meeting Jan. 26, representatives of the state’s six racetracks, in a joint presentation, highlighted a short list of concerns, with integrity at the top of the list. The comments followed similar ones made by horsemen and breeders at the December meeting of the PHRC.
“We’re heartened by an increased focus on integrity,” said Kevin Decker, Director of Racing at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino who spoke for the tracks at the outset. “But the racetracks would like the commission to hear us loud and clear: We want licensees to face intense scrutiny before they compete at our racetracks.
“We must instill confidence in our horsemen, and more importantly, in our bettors. When the tracks take action but the commission can’t or won’t, it creates problems. We want consistency in actions and rulings. Pennsylvania is not an island. We need the commission to work our regional and national partners.”
Joe Wilson, Chief Operating Officer of Parx Racing and President of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, said integrity is the primary issue. He acknowledged progress but said more must be done.
“When I’m at industry conferences I’m very proud to brag about our commission adopting national model rule and penalties,” Wilson said. “It’s working. Please continue this, but if you do it more quickly, it would be appreciated (by the racetracks).
“If somebody cheats, punish them and throw them out. I understand due process. I get it. But it’s frustrating to exclude them and then have them back at the track. Without integrity, we’re done.”
Horsemen and breeders in December asked the PHRC to move forward on adopting an out-of-competition testing rule; it wasn’t on the Jan. 26 agenda. Wilson indicated support for the practice, however.
“If there is funding for it we should be doing it,” Wilson said.
Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Sal DeBunda, who represents Thoroughbred horsemen on the PHRC, said tracking horses as they enter and leave barn areas would go a long way toward fostering integrity. He made a motion—it was passed—that racing commission staff members work with horsemen and track operators to deal with the identification issue.
“The integrity of what’s being done to horses off the track is important,” DeBunda said. “It may be a minor problem (in terms of offenders), but it still affects the integrity of races people are betting on. We should have a record of how is leaving and who is coming.”
Since not all horses are microchipped at this time—the chips are mandatory for Jockey Club registration beginning this year—it was as suggested personnel check every horse’s lip tattoo.
DeBunda also suggested using a portion of a new marketing fund created under Pennsylvania’s 2016 horse racing reform law to focus on integrity efforts.
“We should let the public know that Pennsylvania no longer has a reputation and we’re doing something about it,” DeBunda said. “It should be part of the marketing effort to let the public, horsemen and owners know this is a place you can have integrity.”