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Woody Allen’s Bananas is one of the all time classic comedy flicks. To impress a love interest, the Allen character travels to the mythical banana republic of San Marcos to help a band of revolutionaries oust its ruthless ruler. When the revolutionaries prove successful, their leader declares himself El Presidente, and immediately pronounces that the nation’s new official language is Swedish; that underwear will be worn on the outside at all times and that all children under sixteen… are now sixteen! Real laws can sometimes appear to be as ridiculous as fictional ones. Laws often sound absurd because the facts and circumstances that justified their promulgation have drastically changed. Consider that until relatively recently it was still illegal in New York City to shoot pigeons off the decades-ago extinct Fifth Avenue trolley. Occasionally, deep-rooted traditions are clung to long after everyone else has discarded them. So, while most American jurisdictions have abandoned laws preventing retail businesses from operating on the Christian Sabbath, Bergen County, New Jersey still enforces so-called “Sunday blue laws.” Then again, some real laws appear ridiculous simply because they are ridiculous. Is there a check or limit on what laws a legislature may create? The only true test is whether the law squares with the Constitution. Unless completely devoid of all logic, an otherwise constitutional law will stand. In a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a completely arcane law concerning the election of judges, Justice John Paul Stevens took note that his late colleague, Justice Thurgood Marshal, was quite fond of saying, “The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws.” While legislatures have wide latitude in their power to make laws, administrative agencies are much more restricted in their ability to pass rules and regulations. The distinction is important, because in most jurisdictions, harness racing is heavily controlled via administrative rulemaking. As a creation of the legislature, an administrative agency may only act in the limited manner that the statute which enables it permits. In most jurisdictions, when an administrative regulation is challenged by someone affected, it will be upheld only if it has a rational basis and is not unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious. In other words, the rule must not just be constitutional; it must also make sense. The additional strictures placed upon administrative rulemaking are many. In New York, for example, the State Administrative Procedure Act mandates that an agency consider in its rulemaking the utilization of approaches which are designed to avoid undue deleterious economic effects or overly burdensome impacts of the rule upon persons. Further, New York law requires agencies to prepare a ‘needs and benefits statement’ for each proposed regulation setting forth the purpose of, necessity for, and benefits derived from the rule. Moreover, the agency must provide a citation for and summary, not to exceed five hundred words, of each scientific or statistical study, report or analysis that served as the basis for the rule, an explanation of how it was used to determine the necessity for and benefits derived from the rule, and the name of the person that produced each study, report or analysis. Additionally, New York specifically requires administrative agencies to give due consideration to the impact a proposed regulation may have on small businesses and rural areas, and to provide  flexibility, even to the extent of exempting some from coverage by the rule, or by any part thereof, so long as the public health, safety or general welfare is not endangered. Further, unlike legislated laws, rules and regulations proposed by agencies must undergo a public comment period before their enactment is considered final. In this vein, the agency may choose to hold a public hearing to better understand how proposed rules impact communities, industries or segments thereof. Against this backdrop, the New York State Gaming Commission recently considered a series of proposals put forth by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in the RMTC’s quest to establish uniform medication rules in all racing jurisdictions. While the official position of the United States Trotting Association is that uniformity across the states is desired, the USTA requires that the standardized rules must comport with the specific needs of harness racing. In this regard, the RMTC proposals have in many ways proven to be centered solely on the wants and desires of Thoroughbred racing, as well as the customary training and racing attributes of their horses, without the least bit of concern for the Standardbred industry. The RMTC pitch regarding the administration of Clenbuterol is but one glaring example. Clenbuterol is a therapeutic medication used as a bronchodilator. While some question its effectiveness, others swear by its curative and restorative qualities, and urge that there are no legitimate alternatives to treat common respiratory ailments in horses. At least one scientist has put forth a study that long term use of the drug could be associated with heart failure. Yet, neither the purported safety nor efficacy of the medication was the driving force behind the RMTC’s submission to the various racing commissions. The RMTC’s position is that prolonged use of Clenbuterol has a ‘repartitioning’ effect in horses. This means that in certain quantities over certain periods the substance may turn fat into muscle, and thus has a mechanism ostensibly similar to anabolic steroids. Does it, and if it does, how long of an administration is required to cause such an effect? In truth, there are no good peer reviewed scientific studies on the matter. Nonetheless, RMTC recommends that the Clenbuterol withdrawal time for all racehorses be established at 14 days. This means that any administration of the medication given at any time within the 14 day period before a race would be a violation. Such administration would be determined by a scientifically-established threshold. If a race day specimen contained more than the threshold, the assumption would be that the medication was given within the prohibited timeframe. In New York, the previous Clenbuterol withdrawal time for both breeds was 96 hours. The Thoroughbred rule was recently changed to 14 days, and late last year the Gaming Commission proposed a similar 14-day withdrawal time for Standardbreds. Are Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds the same animal? Hardly. While classified as the same species, Standardbreds have been a closed breed since the late 1800s, with Thoroughbreds being a pure breed for at least a century before. It doesn’t require a science degree to perceive that the breeds are distinguishable in both the conformation and temperament of its members. Some argue that despite the foregoing, there remains a physiological identity to all horses. On this point, consider that there is an open question as to whether the supposed increase in muscle mass some attribute to the medication occurs with equal effect, or at all, in Standardbreds. One consideration is that Thoroughbreds have a high percentage of fast-twitch skeletal muscle fibers, while Standardbreds fall into an intermediate range. Such fact would infer that the purported repartitioning effect cannot be lumped upon the entire species. Again, studies are sparse, and legitimate studies involving racehorses are non-existent.   Even more relevant, while members of both breeds might share an equal 64 chromosomes, the marked differences in both the husbandry and placement in service of the distinct breed members are undeniable. Gaits, surfaces, feeding and training routines are all patently dissimilar. The glaring difference, however, is in the frequency with which the breed members compete. The average Thoroughbred makes fewer than 7 starts per year. Whether due to physical necessity or the lack of opportunity offered by the condition book, most runners get several weeks off between races. Standardbreds, on the other hand, race weekly during most of the year. This is especially true when a horse is competing in a high-end elimination series. Thus, the irony is that while a 14-day rule would still present ample opportunity for “loading-up” Thoroughbreds with Clenbuterol for non-therapeutic purposes, the rule for once-a-week harness horses would simply prevent use of the medication as a legitimate treatment option. What is more, the present 96 hour rule prevents an ulterior illicit use of the medication in weekly-competing Standardbreds, since the administration of the substance would be limited to scant days between races. In sum, a 14 day withdrawal rule for Standardbreds would not simply be nonsensical, but also would prove to completely damaging to the health, safety and welfare of horses that industry regulators are charged to protect. It is for all the foregoing reasons that the USTA, in conjunction with New York’s harness horsemen and assisted by equine scientists and practicing veterinarians, made its case against the 14-day rule in a January public hearing before the N.Y. Gaming Commission.   Subsequent to the hearing, the Commission proposed a modified rule. The modification retains a 96 hour pre-race withdrawal period for harness racing, with the exception that if the horse has not raced for a period in excess of 30 days and needs to qualify, that the 14 day withdrawal rule will be in effect for its first race back. In this regard, the Commission has acted in a way consistent with its mandate to do what is both rational and sensible while protecting the health and safety of the horses and the welfare of the horsemen and wagering public. The breed-specific rule ensures that competing harness horses will not denied a necessary therapeutic medication, and also makes certain that one on an extended layoff will not be administered the substance in a way that might cause performance enhancement. Perhaps RMTC will take the hint. Authoritarian regulations that provide strict and inflexible blanket commands which intentionally ignore conspicuous nuances so as to affect one segment of an industry over others might be expected from the ruling junta in San Marcos. Such edicts shouldn’t be generated by a group that is purported to be based in science and objectivity. Finally, those that believe they can steamroll ill-advised rules by threatening the resistant with government intervention and oversight should take pause; New York government just joined the resistance. Chris E. Wittstruck is an attorney, a director of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York and a charter member of the Albany Law School Racing and Gaming Law Network.

Columbus, OH --- The annual convocation of directors of the United States Trotting Association got underway Sunday afternoon (March 30) in Columbus, Ohio. With Chairman of the Board Ivan Axelrod presiding, the assembled directors heard from Robert Schmitz, chairman of the Ohio Racing Commission. Schmitz spoke on the importance of harness racing to the Ohio economy and the support of Governor John Kasich in recognizing racing’s roots in the farm community.       In remarks video streamed live to members on, President Phil Langley updated the group on the USTA’s efforts to work with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in developing model rules and medication guidelines without overlooking the differences in breeds. Usage patterns and racing patterns have highlighted some major differences between the less-frequently raced Thoroughbreds versus Standardbreds, who often race weekly. There were no challengers to the existing slate of USTA officers, which will remain: Phil Langley, president; Ivan Axelrod, chairman of the board; Russell Williams, vice chairman; Dick Brandt, treasurer and Barbara Brooks, secretary. Rob Key, CEO and founder of Converseon, updated the group on the social media platforms that have been developed, including a centralized harness racing website,, which recently was unveiled with a “100 Greatest Moments in Harness Racing” interactive contest. He emphasized that it was a joint venture among the USTA, Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Harness Writers Association. The Harness Racing Fan Zone (@harnessracingFZ on Twitter) mirrors similar platforms offered by major league sports, like Major League Baseball, the National Football League and NASCAR. “The foundation is in place,” said Key. “We need to spend time on transparency and openness and create communities.” Key predicted the new website would, “give people a feel for what it's like to be in the sport.” He spoke about the social media ambassador’s platform that has been created for participants to share their experiences in the sport. Moving forward, tracks will be urged to partner with the Fan Zone in order to significantly expand awareness and interest in harness racing. A replay of the full board session may be viewed by clicking here or on the link at the top of the story. Committee meetings followed, with rule changes considered in the Fairs, Pari-Mutuel, Regulatory and Registration Committees. Further discussion of rule change proposals will take place Monday in the Rules Committee and the final vote will be rendered at the meeting of all directors Monday afternoon. by Ellen Harvey for Harness Racing Communications

Schenectady, NY – Harness Racing’s top guns descended upon the New York State Gaming Commission public hearing to advance concerns over proposed drug levels for racehorses.  U. S. Trotting Association President, Phil Langley, and Standardbred Owners Association of New York President, Joe Faraldo, led a group of distinguished veterinarians and research experts to counter the “one size fits all” approach being forwarded by the Thoroughbred-based Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) proposals. The appearance of the Standardbred leaders at the public hearing, called by the agency formerly known as the NYS Racing and Wagering board, was to hear “testimony about adoption of per se regulatory thresholds for 24 approved equine medications and amending pre-race restricted time periods for various drugs.” One particular therapeutic substance, respiratory aid Clenbuterol, has been at the forefront of a debate over uniform medication rules approved by the RMTC. Although there is widespread Thoroughbred support for the measures, the Standardbred industry has argued that the two breeds have very distinct differences and therefore should be treated differently.  The proposed rule would prohibit the bronchial dilator from being administered within 14 days of racing, effectively eliminating its potential benefit to Standardbreds that generally race every week. Langley noted that, “Our horses are so durable, they do not even look [like Thoroughbreds.]  Many of our horses race 30 to 40 times each year.  In fact, the leading money-winning horse of all time started 198 times.  We are not trying to get the standards lowered.  We just want to conduct [racing] the way we are.” Dr. Kanter, an expert in equine medicine and pharmacology, with over 40 years of experience as the track vet at Buffalo and Batavia.  “This measure could be denying horses the benefit of years of research of these useful therapeutic drugs, while the efficacy of known substitutes is yet unproven.” Dr. Janet Durso of Goshen, NY, reiterated those concerns.  “Clenbuterol is one of the best drugs for treating blood and discharge from a horse’s lungs.  Remedies would be problematic without it!” One of the contributing factors toward this proposal is the concern that some Thoroughbred trainers are abusing Clenbuterol by overdosing in order to achieve a repartitioning effect, or to build muscle mass.  That appears to be a non-issue in Standardbreds as they race too often for long-term dosages to be administered effectively. Dr. Tobin, a renowned expert from the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, stated, “Clenbuterol did have a repartitioning effect and increased muscle mass, but this did not translate into an increase in performance.  In fact, it decreased performance.” Although the prospect of catastrophic injury of racehorses was discussed, Dr. Tobin noted that “Harness Racing was one of the safest sports in North America.  Only 1 in 15,000 fatal injuries occurred in Standardbreds, where 1 in 2,000 occurred in Thoroughbreds over the same time period.” Several other items were addressed, such as the list of 24 drugs that would provide for the basis of drugs that would have established levels for testing.  All others would be considered “off-limits” for use and result in positive tests if found in race-day blood or urine testing.  In addition, the proposal of special corticosteroid regulations sparked added debate. Of the nine speakers, eight of the experts gave convincing testimony toward the need for separate rules for each breed.  Dr. Dionne Benson, the executive director of the RMTC (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium), was the last speaker and lone dissenter.  She noted that the ad hoc committee for all breeds felt that the thresholds are appropriate, and that the state of Pennsylvania was “on-board” with her groups recommendations. Nonetheless, Joe Faraldo is not convinced that the RMTC proposals are suitable for Harness Racing.  “We heard today that not all of the scientific bases have been covered.  I believe that the [NYS Gaming Board] is cognizant of that fact.  Because this board took the time to listen to all of these points of view, and the science behind them, it is a good indication that Harness Racing will be treated fairly.” by Chris Tully for

Regulations governing the use of anti-inflammatory corticosteroids and the bronchial dilator clenbuterol should be the same for both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium said on Tuesday after releasing two papers examining the effects of the drugs in both breeds. Regulations governing the use of corticosteroids and clenbuterol have become a contentious issue with Standardbred horsemen since the RMTC approved recommendations calling for longer withdrawal times for the drugs. In September, the United States Trotting Association dropped out of the RMTC, citing the organization’s support for the new policies, which call for a seven-day withdrawal period for intra-articular administrations of corticosteroids and a 14-day withdrawal for clenbuterol. One of the papers released on Tuesday stated that the ability of corticosteroids to mask pain and erode joint tissue when administered intra-articularly justified the RMTC’s decision to recommend the longer withdrawal times. The other paper said that clenbuterol should also be more tightly regulated because of its ability to build muscle mass when used regularly. Both papers said there were no physiological differences between Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds that would justify separate regulations. To read the rest of this story click here.

In order to develop comprehensive proposals on the use of therapeutic medications and recommended penalties for violations in harness racing, President Phil Langley has appointed a diverse panel of experts to a new United States Trotting Association (USTA) medication advisory committee. "Recognizing that some of the fault was that the USTA lacked sufficient scientific representation on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC)," said USTA President Phil Langley, "I have appointed a widely representative advisory committee to guide us in future medication proposals." The members of the USTA medication advisory committee are: eminent researchers Dr. George Maylin and Dr. Thomas Tobin; practicing veterinarians Dr. Jay Baldwin, Dr. Janet Durso and Dr. William Moffett; trainers Mark Ford, Sam Beegle, Ray Schnittker and David McCaffrey; racing commissioners Bob Schmitz and Alan Leavitt; attorneys Joe Faraldo and Chris Wittstruck; racing investigator Brice Cote; Hambletonian Society President and CEO Tom Charters; and Phil Langley, Mike Tanner, and T.C. Lane from the USTA. As has been widely reported during the past few weeks, the USTA has struggled with acceptance of some of the RMTC and Association of Racing Commissoners International (RCI) proposed uniform medication rules - especially those regarding clenbuterol and corticosteroids. "Under these proposed rules, both medications would become virtually useless in harness racing," said USTA President Phil Langley. "We are hopeful that after much discussion with RMTC and with testimony before racing commissions, some adjustments will be forthcoming." The USTA has already been working with the Pennsylvania horsemen groups to commission Dr. Larry Soma and Dr. Mary Robinson to conduct research on items like EPO, extracorporeal shock wave therapy and some of the unknown drugs that most threaten the integrity of harness racing. Their research also is pursuing alternatives to clenbuterol and the adjustment of threshold levels that can be utilized with Standardbreds. By Dan Leary, USTA director of marketing and communications  

Chicago, IL --- Members of Harness Horsemen International today unanimously agreed to support the Sept. 25 decision by the Executive Committee of the United States Trotting Association to reject The Association of Racing Commissioners International proposed model medication rules, and to withdraw the USTA membership from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, Inc. The harness racing industry has provided more than $1 million in funding to the RMTC in the past decade. The consensus from the USTA is that while they support uniform medication policies, breed customization should be mandatory, given that the breed characteristics between Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses are significantly different. “We believe the money can be better spent on research and testing in areas more concentrated on harness racing,” USTA President Phil Langley stressed. “We believe both breeds, Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, will benefit from having rules concentrated solely on their needs. Trying to fit them together makes little sense.” “We work closely with the USTA,” confirmed HHI President Tom Luchento. “We are in full agreement with the decisions they have made regarding this issue.” The USTA, with the combined support of Harness Horsemen International and Harness Tracks of America, will ask RCI to maintain the current rules in effect for Standardbreds, instead of having one set of model rules for two breeds with significantly different requirements. by Kim Rinker for HHI

The Executive Committee of the United States Trotting Association unanimously voted to reject The Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) proposed model medication rules on Wednesday. In a separate unanimous vote, the committee agreed that the USTA will immediately withdraw its membership from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, Inc. (RMTC). "We have carefully considered the RCI proposals and have come to the conclusion that the physical characteristics of the breeds are significantly different. Trying to fit them together makes little sense," said USTA President Phil Langley. "We believe both breeds, Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, will benefit from having rules concentrated solely on their needs. "Many safeguards now in use in harness racing would never be acceptable to the more high-strung Thoroughbreds, including Lasix barns, two- to four-hour paddock times and racing on a weekly basis," added Langley. "On the other hand, both the frequency that Standardbreds race and the lack of catastrophic breakdowns in harness racing make the utilization of some therapeutic medications much different between the breeds." As a result, the USTA, with the support of Harness Tracks of America (HTA), will ask RCI to maintain the current rules in effect for Standardbreds instead of having one set of model rules for two breeds with significantly different requirements. "After studying these proposed rule changes, it is apparent to us that they are entirely focused on the needs of Thoroughbreds with little consideration for Standardbreds," concluded Langley. The USTA supports uniform medical medication policies, but thinks that they need to be customized for each breed. "We want to make it very clear the USTA supports uniform rules," said Langley, "but we strongly believe they should be by breed. Things like blood doping, out- of-competition testing, EPO and Shock Wave Therapy are high on the list of USTA research projects." In other action, it was determined that the USTA will immediately withdraw from RMTC. During the last 10 years, the harness racing industry has supported the RMTC with more than $1 million in contributions. "While we applaud the intentions of the RMTC, we also feel that their efforts concentrate on the Thoroughbreds with little consideration for Standardbreds," explained Langley. "We believe that the money can be better spent on research and testing in areas more concentrated on harness racing." by Dan Leary for USTA

It's been 279 days since controversial California harness racing trainer Lou Pena last lined up a horse on race-day. One day after being granted permission to train and own standardbreds again Pena is now seriously thinking about switching codes.

Controversial North American harness racing trainer Lou Pena can train and own racehorses again. The 44-year-old had his licence reinstated today (Wednesday February 27) by the New York Gaming Commission.

At its November 13 meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) board of directors addressed a number of important initiatives including therapeutic medications, laboratory proficiency, corticosteroid regulation and penalties for rule violations.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission recently approved regulations based on the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) Model Rules. The regulations concern major medications reported to the public in racing forms.

The Board of Directors of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) has voted to direct its committees to develop a 'One Strike, You're Out' proposal for those licensees found to be responsible for putting substances in horses that endanger the horse.

At the most recent United States Trotting Association annual meeting in February, USTA President Phil Langley appointed a committee of harness racing horsemen and track operators to study drug testing and to investigate what the industry can do to improve testing procedures, including providing more financial support.

Standardbred racing regulators from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware said that they would work to harmonize regional harness racing rules and explore implementation of time-based limits on medication administration following a meeting at the Meadowlands prompted by calls for uniformity by Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural.

Whether controversial harness racing trainer Lou Pena is guilty or not some of the United States best conditioners are now worried and looking over their shoulders in light of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB) last week suspending Pena for 1,700 equine drug violations in nearly 700 races.

Several changes were recently adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rules Committee, including rules limiting who can administer race-day furosemide and the reporting of changes to the condition of a horse on race day.

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