Day At The Track

A disaster looming for harness racing

05:45 AM 26 Oct 2020 NZDT
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If anyone chooses to buy into The Jockey Club mandates imposed upon harness racing; that seek to shove this Federal bill down our throats based upon what they think is good for us because it's good for them, then I guess we could be satisfied with whatever The Jockey Club comes up with.

Further, if one so believes, then one should be counted with those who believe that the USTA has not been negotiating, or not expending a great deal of effort for the best interest of its membership and our industry. You can believe that the hundreds of hours expended by USTA officers, directors, staff, lobbyists and counsel over the last three years has been nonexistent from the debate to negotiation stages on this Federal Bill. Blindly believe as anyone chooses but the reality is that simply is not true.

Besides working to achieve recognition for the differences in our breed, bet you didn’t know that the USTA has been actively negotiating with thoroughbred interests even on a state level for recognition in regulations suited to our industry. The USTA has been pro active negotiating for our breed on state and federal levels, which work it has put front and center as its priority to protect the harness racing industry.  

Just to give you an idea of what has also been taking place on the state level while we worked for similar goals on the National level. The concept of a National Racing Compact was advanced in a number of states that would have put us under thoroughbred umbrella similar to what the  Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act will also do as a practical matter. That effort was initially and forcefully opposed by harness horsemen’s associations. Then with the aid of the USTA, a compromise was not only suggested, but crafted for the good of the harness industry.

The USTA worked and actually drafted a state bill that would have put harness into the National Compact on the same footing as the thoroughbred industry. That would be with the statutory recognition that harness would have a separate state commission-appointed delegate to the Compact. That each breed would have separate delegates and each breed would be recognized for its differences and its unique performance model. The delegates would not be bound by, but would take input on medication rules regulations  from the separate breed representatives and enact regulations suited to each breed as those delegates saw fit.

Under the National Racing Compact compromise offered by the USTA, the harness delegation could not force any regulations on the thoroughbreds, or vice versa, unless the other breed’s delegates consented. For example, if a regulation’s withdrawal time and threshold level was scientifically shown to have applicability to each breed, the other breed’s delegates could adopt it. Regulations would not be forced upon a breed that did not fit its own performance model. Unfortunately, while the Compact was deemed to work well for the thoroughbreds, when an offer was made for the same formula for harness separately, negotiations broke off despite all our work.

What  the USTA sought in those negotiations was a simple equal and fair agreement on National Racing Compact legislation that would be as fair and acceptable to the harness industry as it was for the thoroughbred industry.

Simply, everything was the same in the statute that was applicable to them would be applicable to our industry, but on a parallel line. Naively we thought that this should get a done deal. It seemed fair, after all we race more than they do and our vets treat our horses quite differently often doing multiple joints bilaterally. The USTA’s work was rejected by the thoroughbreds. No reason given.

Over many months and before the new version of the “Integrity” Act of 2020 popped up, harness offered that deal on the National Compact in our negotiations. The same kind of effort was put into the Federal Bill but with even greater intensity and work. The thoroughbred representatives refused any negotiation and the USTA received the very same response it was getting to the Compact offer it made. This despite the harness industry’s efforts spearheaded by the USTA over the last three years and 300 hours of meetings to factor fairness for our breed into the Federal bill. The result, the same, No deal.

The thoroughbreds, one has to think, will benefit from our payments under the new Federal bill based upon our number of starts as compared to theirs and at a cost to our horsemen of initially $50 per start. Much of our money will be for studying how to prevent thoroughbred breakdowns by improving racing surfaces. Additionally, the cause for removing Lasix is based upon the fiction that the therapeutic medication is the cause of those breakdowns and the further fiction that it masks other medications, when today we can find medications down to the picogram in most horses on Lasix. 

Safety and Integrity are nice buzz words… but don’t be fooled, because all the 2020 Act will provide the harness industry is a massive fee assessment towards the cure of someone else’s problems, and a brand new set of regulations that will provide solace for the pet peeves of someone else’s industry, and the potential destruction of ours.

The USTA is not so naive to think that once this law is passed, if indeed it might be, that somehow our negotiations will continue and the USTA will succeed in achieving fairness for our members. Make no mistake, once enacted we will pay under this law in many ways.

With 1 seat at a table of 27 and you can see the degree of input we will have in effectuating necessary reforms in either the law or its application.

For those who think differently, one can only wish you are correct. Our experience teaches us differently.

From Joe Faraldo, chairman of USTA District 8A
 
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