By: Frank Angst

In an era where some states have faced budget cuts, racing regulators talked April 19 about creative ways to place more investigators on the backstretch as a way of discovering wrongdoing and deterring future bad behavior.

The talk of such approaches was one of four panel discussions on a busy Wednesday at the Association of Racing Commissioners International annual conference in Charleston, S.C. Other panel topics included the performance of stewards enforcing racing rules, new approaches to the adjudication process, and regulation of the riding crop.

In the panel on investigations titled, “Policing the Backside: A View from the Front Line,” Janet VanBebber, chief racing officer of the American Quarter Horse Association, documented the success her group has enjoyed in helping to fund added investigators to observe backstretch activity in the days leading up to some of its biggest races.

Nebraska Racing Commission executive director Tom Sage, who has served on some of the investigative teams, said horsemen most assuredly take notice and many horsemen appreciate their presence. Sage encouraged racing commissions to find ways to increase the number of investigators on the backstretch ahead of big race days or when there is a possible concern.

Sage said by contacting the Organization of Racing Investigators, a plan can be shaped to bring in the extra boots on the ground. He noted that travel expenses and daily pay typically amount to about $1,000 per person for a weekend.

When those added investigators are there, Sage said if they see anything of concern, they contact commission investigators and the stewards. Sage and others also noted that many states have added safety stewards in recent years, and they also can work with investigators and stewards on integrity concerns.

Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission executive director John Wayne—again with limited budgets in mind—offered advice on how racing commissions can tailor out-of-competition testing.

“A lot of this is common sense, reading the past performances and being aware when a horse has a form reversal or improves after a change in connections,” said Wayne, who added that use of the Equibase Virtual Stable allows such horses to be tracked in terms of workouts and entries.

Wayne, also active in the ORI, said lower-level races within a jurisdiction often can be of more concern than top stakes races.

“Whether it’s a betting coup—and of course the (Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau) is on the alert for any kind of betting anomalies and they let us know what’s going on. But you want to prevent these things from happening,” Wayne said. “Out-of-competition testing is very, very important. The strategy we use is to go out seven or 10 days ahead of a race and get a sample, and possibly go out two days later and get a sample from that same horse. Those are things that have been very effective.”

Wayne said in 2016 Delaware did 201 out-of-competition samples out of a total of 1,786 total samples that were tested (about 11%).

“I think we’re doing what we should be doing—being responsible,” Wayne said.

Later in the day a panel discussed regulation of riding crop use in advance of an ARCI model rules committee meeting set for April 20 that will consider two proposals.

One of those proposals is from the Jockeys’ Guild, which has raised concerns about a California rule put in place in July of 2015 that limits riders to striking a horse three times in succession before giving the horse a chance to respond, a response timeframe that has been estimated to be at least two strides. The Jockeys’ Guild would like to see that response timeframe reduced to one stride and more liberal use of the riding crop allowed in the final sixteenth mile of a race.

California Horse Racing Board executive director Rick Baedeker said riders have adjusted to the rule. He said at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in the past two months, they’ve seen just 22 violations from more than 3,400 mounts. He said the rule in California has led to jockeys reducing their use of the riding crop.

“What we have found is there is no question the jockeys have more control of the horses. Both hands are on the reigns more,” Baedeker said. “As a result, they’re riding straighter.”

He added that bumping has been reduced, which is protecting horses.

Jockeys’ Guild board member Ramon Dominguez advocated his group’s model rule, which he and current riders like John Velazquez and Julien Leparoux helped develop. He noted that as states tweak their rules on use of riding crops, jockeys are forced to adjust their riding style from state to state. He noted that other top athletes are not forced to make such changes to their game based only on where they’re competing.

Alan Monat, a former jockey and former Illinois racing regulator, noted that concerns about causing welts or cuts to a horse have been greatly reduced through model rules that have seen riding crops changed to include padded poppers and require the impact area to be more spread out.

A recommendation on riding crop use from The Jockey Club to be considered by the model rules committee would set guidelines on penalties that would call for more severe penalties for repeat offenders and on the severity of the offense.

In other panels Wednesday:

  • Attorney Peter Sacopulos encouraged regulators to add opportunities for mediation during the adjudication process. Concerns were raised that such an option could see a mediator playing too big a regulatory role by essentially determining penalties through that negotiation process.
  • Members of the panel on racing officials encouraged transparency from stewards on their racing decisions, noting examples of states where stewards offer reasoning for their decisions in reports available online.