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On Saturday, December 7, The Standardbred Owners Association of New York (SOANY), the horsemen's association representing the over 1,000 owners, trainers and drivers regularly competing at Yonkers Raceway, certified the results of its 2019 Board of Directors election. In the driver/trainer category, Ray Schnittker, Peter Younger and Andrew Harris were unopposed in their election to three year terms. In the owner category, SOA President Joseph Faraldo and Chris Wittstruck were also unopposed in their election to three year terms. At the SOA's annual meeting the present officers, as well as trustees of the Welfare and Retirement Funds, were continued for year 2020. They are: Officers: President: Joseph Faraldo 1st Vice President: Peter Venaglia 2nd Vice President Irv Atherton 3rd Vice President: John Brennan Treasurer: Irv Atherton Secretary: John Brennan Trustees: Peter Venaglia - Chairman Irv Atherton John Brennan Joseph Faraldo Chris Wittstruck Jordan Stratton (1st Alternate) Ray Schnittker (2nd Alternate) Peter Younger (3rd Alternate) Also at the meeting, the Board discussed its intent to continue its diligence in monitoring prospective legislation as it addresses casino gaming and sports betting, so as to prevent further cannibalization of our industry. It was also reported that the 2020 International Trot will be held on a date in mid-September. by Chris Wittstruck, for SOA of NY

Columbus, OH - In his Op-Ed "Commentary: Horse racing bill is crafted to help breeders, not horses," in Monday's (Aug. 26) Albany Times Union, Standardbred Owners Association of New York Director Chris Wittstruck details why the current federal Horse Racing Integrity Act is not only dangerous for horses, but is loaded with the ulterior motives of Thoroughbred breeders looking to increase the sale price of their horses in Europe by eliminating the use of race-day Lasix, which will cause our horses more harm than good. In his commentary, Wittstruck wrote: President Ronald Reagan once quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." This lesson has been forgotten by some in the horse racing industry who are calling for the federal government to oversee an industry it knows nothing about - horse racing. Catastrophic incidents involving Thoroughbred racehorses are horrifying and hideous. Unfortunately, the causes are the terrible manifestation of problems mostly incorrectly identified. In this regard, the push by some of racing's elite to support the federal Horse Racing Integrity Act is misplaced. Not only will the legislation not save the life or career of a single racehorse, it will cause our horses more harm than good. Read the bill and it is clear that the true intent is to create a federal bureaucracy these same interests can influence, and ban currently legal and beneficial medication. Specifically, the bill would ban the use of Lasix on race day. This is perplexing, since the American Association of Equine Practitioners states that "absent a more effective treatment/preventative for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), the AAEP supports the use of [Lasix] as a day-of-the-race medication to control EIPH." Not only is this bill dangerous for horses, it is loaded with ulterior motive. The most vocal proponents of this bill are the breeders, who worry the use of Lasix causes a lower sale price in Europe. For them, this bill is a way to get a higher return on investment. By taking decision-making away from independent state regulators, the proponents will finally be able to drown out the voices of competent veteran horsemen, veterinarians and others who recognize the patent difference between legal, therapeutic medication and doping. In proposing what "looks good," the legislation actually denies the horse. Every state racing board, including New York's commission, maintains stringent regulations that not only ban all forms of drugging and illicit procedures, but also severely restrict the use of therapeutic medications, including Lasix. Each has established penalties for overages of even these permissive medications. New York's imposition of decade-long suspensions of licensed trainers for repeated violations is testament to no-nonsense enforcement of commission rules. The federal bill is no stronger in this area, yet it allows for hefty fees from industry for what constitutes duplication of effective, state-based oversight. Consider also that as horses were breaking down at an alarming rate in California, horses in New York and elsewhere were not. If Lasix was the root cause of horse fatalities, the high numerical incidence would be consistently widespread across all states with a racing presence. But that is not the case. In 2019, there have been no equine racing deaths at Saratoga Harness and only one at Yonkers Raceway (no apparent connection to medication), despite several thousands of individual race entries. Instead of turning its sights to this false veneer of a "solution," Congress should work to solve our most pressing crises, such as immigration, health care costs, mass shootings or the deficit, not the pet project of racing's elite. To see the story in the Albany Time Union, click this link. From the USTA Communications Department    

The Standardbred Owners Association of New York ("SOA") and Yonkers Racing Corporation have entered into an amendment of their current horsemen's agreement. The terms and conditions governing harness racing at Yonkers Raceway was just extended beyond the current expiration date of May, 2019 to May, 2021. The July 10th, 2018 agreement entitled the "First Amendment" will maintain the same number of annual race dates, as well as the current revenue stream for purses. Joseph Faraldo, President of the SOA of NY said, "The SOA Board of Directors has approved the negotiation of the terms and the execution of this First Amendment. I am pleased that this process was seamless and entered into with the knowledge and consent of the Raceway's new owners, MGM Resorts International, as the same portends a good working relationship with our new partners. Hopefully, this amendment will be followed by others in numerical sequence." Faraldo also noted that in April of this year MGM Growth Properties acquired the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park outside of Cleveland, Ohio and indicated, "We may now be referring to Northfield Park as our 'sister track' and vice versa. Coordinating post times may add some benefits to both tracks, with the racing fans the prime beneficiaries. In sum, despite the initial apprehensions expressed in some quarters, world class harness racing at the Hilltop Oval appears to have a very bright and elongated future." by Chris Wittstruck, for the SOA of NY  

With due apology to celebrated newspaper editor Horace Greeley, Ohio native Brent Holland's manifest destiny was clearly to, “Go East, Young Man.” Following that somewhat twisted admonition has paid hefty dividends for this stalwart of the Yonkers Raceway harness racing drivers’ colony, as the reinsman recently notched his 5,000th career victory at New York’s Hilltop oval. A winner of over $54 million in purse earnings, Holland's prowess in the sulky is testament to the fine mentoring the soft-spoken Buckeye received early in his career. His first job at the Maynard Hagemeyer Family Farm in Clarksville, Ohio prepared him for his initial pari-mutuel victory at Lebanon Downs.  Holland further honed his skills in Chicago under the tutelage of venerable Hall of Famer Bob Farrington. In 2008, Holland took a considerable leap of faith and trekked to New York. It was at Yonkers in 2009 that Holland notched win 4,000; and this past June 23rd he proudly guided pacing mare Delightful Dragon first under the wire for driving win 5,000. The Standardbred Owners Association of New York is pleased that this man steeped in both talent and faith has chosen to ply his trade at the home of the International Trot. We wish this 46-year-old years of future success in our industry. Chris E. Wittstruck

Goshen, NY- Fifteen-year-old alumnus Justin Irvine put an exclamation point on the Harness Horse Youth Foundation's (HHYF) 40th Anniversary celebration Sunday, winning the Open Pace Matinee at Goshen Historic Track with Cruzing Hill by 25 lengths over a sloppy track in 2:01.2. In Irvine's first charted drive, he pulled from second with the Mark Ford-trainee as the horses headed to the three-quarter pole and drew off to easily defeat the harness racing opposition with a 30.3 final quarter. Cruzing Hill is owned by George and Rose Bonomo of Illinois. Earlier, over 100 attendees celebrated HHYF with brunch at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. They witnessed a program that featured a cavalcade of guests, with Bob "Hollywood" Heyden serving as M.C. Chris Wittstruck received his Service to Youth Award from HHYF and he made a passionate plea for the industry to support HHYF's efforts. The assembled also heard from Service to Youth winner and former HHYF President Callie Davies-Gooch, former scholarship recipient and equine vet Dr. Patty Hogan, alum and Little Brown Jug winning driver Montrell Teague, current President Marlys Pinske, and future camper Wyatt Beaver, who will be attending camp at Gaitway Farms this summer. The group then had time to tour the museum prior to the start of the matinee card at the Historic Track. Celebrating 40 years of youth education and service to harness racing, the Harness Horse Youth Foundation is a charitable 501(c)3 organization dedicated to providing young people and their families educational opportunities with harness horses, in order to foster the next generation of participants and fans. The Foundation makes a difference in young people's lives through interactive learning experiences with these versatile animals, scholarship programs, and creation and distribution of educational materials. For more information on opportunities through HHYF, or to support its mission, go to    

Westfield, IN- For the first time since 2005, the Harness Horse Youth Foundation has named two winners of its Service to Youth Award, the highest accolade the organization offers. The "horse-racing professor," Chris Wittstruck was honored for his generosity to the Foundation, while former President and Trustee Callie Davies-Gooch was selected for her long-term commitment to HHYF. In announcing the award, HHYF Executive Director Ellen Taylor said, "Callie's efforts on behalf of HHYF were tireless and creative. She never lacked the willingness to try new ideas or the determination to get them done. When HTA's Stan Bergstein approached HHYF about developing the curriculum for the Harness Racing Youth League, Callie ensured that every aspect of the program was comprehensively implemented. She even traveled on the first road trip to northern Indiana and personally assisted with the original horse purchases including our beloved Sweet Karen." "Chris simply took the Board's collective breath away with his kindness. His bigheartedness is already allowing HHYF to seriously think about ways to make improvements in several areas" explained Ellen Taylor. A full profile of Chris Wittstruck will be released when he is presented with his award at the HHYF 40th anniversary celebration on June 5, 2016 at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY. Callie Davies-Gooch served as Trustee for nearly 25 years and HHYF President for 14 years. She was the driving force behind many groundbreaking HHYF projects including the creation and distribution of 50,000 harness racing career guides to high school guidance counselors across North America. Not only did she secure the mailing lists and organize the entire process, she provided valuable input as the guide was compiled. The Foundation's end-of-summer celebration of its campers at The Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day has always been one of Callie's favorite activities. Each year, she made sure that the volunteer professional drivers were ready and other logistics under control. Callie, who will receive her award at the Dan Patch Awards Dinner in Ft. Lauderdale on March 6, remarked, "It is a great honor to have been selected along with my fellow award winner, Chris Wittstruck. I can only hope that the 23 years of service to the Harness Horse Youth Foundation, has helped to foster a new generation of horse lovers and future owners, trainers, drivers, caretakers and fans. The future of harness racing is youth." For more information on this release, contact HHYF Project Manager Keith Gisser ( or 216-374-1392 Keith Gisser

It was no surprise that harness racing booster and attorney Chris Wittstruck recently won the Team Valor International's Stan Bergstein Writing Award. He has long been a featured, cutting-edge columnist at, but his actions following the announcement were even more cutting edge. Wittstruck immediately announced he was donating the accompanying stipend to the Harness Horse Youth Foundation. "It's an investment in the future," Wittstruck explained. "An absolute no-brainer. My daughter Angelica attended one of the first HHYF camps at Harrington Raceway in 2003 and I have seen the great work they do. Stan Bergstein, who this award is named for, was the first HHYF Service to Youth Award winner (in 1979) so this donation honors him as much as it does HHYF." Wittstruck has done his part to promote the sport, teaching a weekend course in horse ownership and also helping promote the New York legislator races in addition to his writing. He strongly believes that exposing children to harness racing is key to the sport's success. He also understands how important HHYF's past is to the future. He says, "Some of these kids will come to camp and never drive a horse again. And that's fine. Maybe they are riders. But they will have the exposure. For a week, they put down their devices and learn. And down the road, they go to the races and recall the camp and bring their friends. The immersion in the sport - the farriers, the vets, not just the work with the horses - is fantastic because it was done right by HHYF." HHYF Executive Director Ellen Taylor will meet with the organization's trustees to determine how to best put Wittstruck's largesse to its best use. She explains, "Obviously, we are beyond appreciative of Chris's generosity and kindness. With that appreciation comes a responsibility to honor the gesture in the most appropriate and worthwhile way possible. What a wonderful opportunities lie ahead to further our mission." For more information on this release contact Keith Gisser at 216-374-1392

Chris Wittstruck, a columnist for the United States Trotting Association website, won Team Valor International’s Stan Bergstein Writing Award on Thursday night in a presentation at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion in Lexington. A panel of five independent judges selected Wittstruck’s piece “Watching the Cheaters Cheat” for the fourth annual award boasting a $25,000 prize from Barry Irwin’s Team Valor. Wittstruck, an attorney and director of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, asserted that catching drug cheats in the act can be racing’s most effective means of deterrence. “Catching a drug perpetrator in the act red handed is more significant than finding a bad substance in a sample,” Wittstruck wrote in the column dated November 3, 2014. “We don’t convict test tubes; we convict people. A positive sample occasions a rule violation. Tying administration to the affirmative act of a specific person via eyewitness observation could lead to a criminal conviction. Soliciting tips, developing leads, conducting professional surveillance, obtaining warrants — hard, old fashioned legwork — is what’s needed.” Barry Irwin said “What I liked about the winning story was that the writer cited a problem, suggested a solution and wrote it in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner. I thought it was just brilliant.” The judges noted that the quality of the eight nominated stories was exceptional, and their voting reflected that sentiment, as the result was very close. Other finalists were Ray Paulick of the Paulick with three stories, Frank Angst of the Blood-Horse with two stories and single pieces from Doug McCoy and Frank Vespe of the Racing Biz and Natalie Voss of the Paulick Report. Wittstruck was presented with a bronze trophy from equine sculptor Nina Kaiser to conclude a program that featured speeches from Jeff Gural, the harness track operator who has been vigilant in combating illicit drugs, and Ben Nichols, an official from the World Anti-Doping Agency and spokesman this week in the release of a WADA report alleging that Russia engaged in state-sponsored doping of Olympic athletes. Irwin said “After getting our land legs for the first three years of this award and testing out venues, we felt confident enough this year to expand the entire program and invite different college groups, including equine studies students, journalism majors and racing clubs. We also had a big representation from many of the major racing groups in U.S. racing. We wanted to make the event more of a platform to address the state of journalism in racing. For that, we brought in Mr. Nichols from the internationally respected sporting group WADA, and also Mr. Gural, who is a trend-setting racing entrepreneur who has taken matters into his own hands to change racing for the better. They presented important perspectives.” Instead of accepting the prize money, Wittstruck requested that Team Valor donate it to the Harness Horse Youth Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity that provides educational clinics, materials and scholarships with the stated goal of “fostering the next generation of participants and fans.” Wittstruck pointed out that the late Stan Bergstein, a seminal figure in harness racing as well as a regular columnist for Daily Racing Form, was the recipient of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s inaugural Service to Youth Award in 1979. “I am especially happy to win an award named in honor of Stan Bergstein,” said Wittstruck, whose law practice is based in New Hyde Park, New York.

A banner day for the sport of amateur harness racing climaxed when "Lady Monica" Banca and Bob "the Headhunter" Hechkoff each won their respective $6000 divisions of the CKG Billings Amateur Driving Series at Yonkers Raceway on Thursday night (May 28). Banca won on the betting card while Hechkoff's triumph came in a non-wagering trot. Earlier in the day at, Monticello Raceway, "Hot-Handed Hannah" Miller won two amateur events, a NAADA trot and a Catskill Amateur Series pace, marking the first time that amateur drivers--and there were four-- did double duty racing at one track in the afternoon and at another in the evening. Once again Banca's victory was on the betting card at Yonkers Raceway and it came with the same horse (Meadowview Arny) that she used to defeat a team of visiting French amateurs in an international competition a month ago. As she did against the visiting French, Banca wasn't content to follow anyone and moved her horse to the lead after getting looped on the first turn. Once on the engine she kept up the strong pace and she and Meadowview Arny trotted through fractions of :29, :58.4 and 1:28.2 before going on to a length victory over Wygant Prince and driver "Coach Paul" Minore. Third place went to Rev It Now driven by Hannah Miller who was looking for a perfect day of three wins in three drives that day. Banca, Norwegian by birth, notched her second driving victory in five seasonal starts. The winner is owned by Joe Faraldo and Chris Wittstruck and trained by Richard Banca. He paid $3.40 for win. In the non-wagering split Hechkoff, as he usually does, sent his trotter, No Recess, to the lead from the seven hole and they had two lengths on the field as they passed the first stanza. Hechkoff seemed comfortable on the lead but as the field headed to the halfway point David "Proud Poppa" Glasser pulled the three hole with Csi What's My Name when he heard Dave "Steady As" Yarock coming with Rompaway Alvin. Glasser's trotter and No Recess and side by side around the paddock turn and up the backside and they were still one-two heading for home. But No Recess proved stronger and turned back Csi What's My Name for a one length victory in a 2:01.1 clocking. Mark "Shoprite" Schullstrom picked up the show dough with Catalyst. Hechkoff's RBH Veentures owns the winner whose trained by Kyle Spagnola.For Hechkoff it marked his seventh winning drive of the season and 61st of his 15 year amateur driving career. by John Manzi for the Billings Series  

Attorneys who practice in the commercial law arena are all quite familiar with the laws governing the risk of loss for goods in transit. The Uniform Commercial Code, or “UCC” is a body of laws that have been adopted by the overwhelming majority of states. The UCC sets forth certain terms that dictate at what point the seller of goods is no longer responsible for their loss and the buyer bears the risk of losing them prior to receipt. Consider a seller who entrusts millions of dollars’ worth of goods to a shipping company. The merchant delivers the goods to the dock and leaves. Loaded with the merchandise, the vessel hits stormy weather, and the goods are damaged beyond repair. Neither seller nor buyer is at fault for such an unfortunate event. Does the seller take the loss; or does the buyer have to pay for the goods, notwithstanding that they no longer have commercial value? The answer dictates which party will need to pursue a claim against the shipping company, so as to be made whole. In claiming, the rules of racing in a jurisdiction establish the risk of loss as between the claimant and the horseman who enters the horse for the tag. Traditionally, state rules have provided that once a claim is filed, it is irrevocable and is at the risk of the claimant1.   In New York, for example, the applicable harness rule provides that every horse claimed races in the interest and for the account of the owner who declared it to such race, but that title to the claimed horse is vested in the successful claimant from the time the word “GO” is given by the starter. At that point, the successful claimant becomes the owner of the horse, whether it is alive or dead, sound or unsound, or injured either before, during or after the race2.  Exceptions to this rule occur when horse’s age or sex is misrepresented, a mare races with an unannounced pregnancy, or there is a drug positive. In these limited circumstances, the claim is not automatically void; it is “voidable” at the option of the claimant3. While Thoroughbred claiming rules typically followed suit, recent spates of equine injuries and deaths have led to the abandonment of tradition in some states. After a rash of catastrophic breakdowns at New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack in the winter of 2011/2012, both the track and the state’s gaming commission established emergency, later permanent, rule changes. In New York Thoroughbred racing, in the event that a horse dies during a race or is euthanized on the track following a race, any and all claims made for the horse are void4.  Additionally, a claim is voidable at the discretion of the new owner, for a period of one hour after the race is made official, for any horse that is vanned off the track after the race5. Further, based upon the questionable opinion of New York regulators that the VLT-enriched purses in claiming races caused horsemen to enter less than sound horses in such races, the Commission promulgated a rule setting the minimum price for which a horse may be entered in a claiming race to be at not be less than fifty percent of the value of the purse for the race6.  For example, if a race is carded for $20,000 claiming tags, the purse of the race cannot exceed $40,000. In California, claiming procedures have changed even more dramatically.  Prior to 2013, the Golden State’s applicable rule called for voiding a claim only if the horse suffered a fatality during the running of the race or before the horse returned to be unsaddled. On May 16, 2013, an amendment to the rule took effect, mandating the stewards to also void a claim if the racing or official veterinarian determines the horse will be placed on the Veterinarian’s List as unsound or lame before the horse is released to the successful claimant7. Concededly, lameness is a fairly objective veterinary diagnosis. What constitutes unsoundness obviously runs an entire gamut of potential maladies, not all of which can be readily or correctly diagnosed during the course of a cursory veterinary examination. Invariably, any horse suspected of unsoundness would have passed a pre-race veterinary examination, possibly conducted by the same professional now charged with the post-race examination, just hours before it raced. Of further concern is that fact that the successful claimant cannot accept the horse, even if he or she wants to take the halter despite the vet’s opinion. The rule renders the claim void, as opposed to voidable at the claimant’s option. On February 18 of this year, California decided to go even further. The Board approved for public notice a proposed regulatory amendment requiring that claims be voided for horses that are placed on the veterinarian’s list for having visibly bled8.  Epistaxis, the veterinary term for blood presenting in the nostrils, is somewhat rare. One can only surmise that eventually, in addition to serum collection, horses with a slip deposited in the box will be mandatorily scoped for blood and mucous, resulting in a voided claim for a positive result. The intentions that form the basis for all of these rules changes are laudable. Protection of the well-being of the animal and the finances of the prospective claimant are legitimate objectives. Still, amidst these Band-Aid approaches among various jurisdictions, there is a larger picture that is being overlooked. At base level, both handicappers and horsemen are asking the same question: When a horse is in for a claiming tag less than its previous start, is the steed being risked to get much needed purse money at a soft level, or is it being unloaded by its present connections? There are trainers of both breeds who are specialists at the “drop down” game. The horse is competitive at a higher claiming price, but the conditioner takes a plunge, often getting both a large slice of the purse and the horse back to his barn. Potential takers literally fear fear itself, passing on the horse based on the belief that because it was in for so low a tag there was necessarily something amiss with him. Conversely, there are horses that go down the claiming ladder simply because they are not presently, and may never again be competitive at their recent level. Euphemistically, the horse is now “slower,” or “she ain’t what she used to be.” Putting it bluntly, the horse has problems, the nature and extent of which may or may not render them correctable. The horse may or may not pass a swift, abbreviated post-race soundness exam. What is sure is that the claimant is putting a slip in on the horse because he or she thinks it’s a bargain. Unless the drop down is for a quick purse grab, the present connections are not going to want the horse back in the barn. Yet, governmental rules increasingly interfere with the business decisions of the prospective seller and purchaser. Purse ceilings on claiming races make the contests less attractive for the “drop down” conditioners. The likelihood that connections will be forced to take a less than perfect horse back anyway based upon a singular, subjective opinion of unsoundness, make claiming races less and less of an attractive place to sell the unwanted. In truth, horses die or are vanned off because of issues other than soundness. Less than optimum track conditions or on-track accidents involving quite healthy horses can lead to catastrophic results. If a sound horse, approved for racing by the state or track vet, enters the track but fails to leave under its own power, why should the selling connections be forced to retain the horse?   The solution might be to allow prospective claimants to examine a horse before a race, and at a time just prior to when a slip is due in the claim box. In the same way a hopeful bidder is permitted to have his vet examine a horse in a consignment barn before it goes through the sales ring, a claimant could make an informed decision about soundness issues without a state or track vet making a decision for him, post-race. This approach would allow the ancient principle of caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’) to retake its prominence in the claiming realm. It would also ensure that claimed horses are healthy ones. The recent hodge-podge of curative regulations which increasingly interferes with the horsemen’s right of contract would be rendered unnecessary, and the traditional, less government-intrusive rules of claiming will return. In sum, it’s time to look very carefully at the overregulation of claiming, before we lose claiming races altogether. 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.  1 -  See, generally, New York, 9 NYCRR 4038.9; Delaware, Harness Racing Rule; Pennsylvania Harness Rule 183.151(u) 2  - 9 NYCRR 4109.3(i); see, also, Pennsylvania Harness Rule 183.151(g); U.S.T.A. Rule 11.03(d)(6) 3 -  9 NYCRR 4109.6; 4109.7 4 -  9 NYCRR 4038.5(a)(2) 5 -  9 NYCRR 4038.5(a)(3) 6 -  9 NYCRR 4038.2 7 -  CHRB Rule 1658 8  - Summary of California Horse Racing Board Actions and Discussions 2-18-15, last read online February 23, 2015 at: by Chris E. Wittstruck, Esq. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is uniformly recognized as the premier criminal detection and enforcement agency in the United States. Whether exclusively, or as part of a team or task force, the FBI is involved in investigating and/or uncovering virtually all major crimes in this country. The DEA, ATF, IRS, SEC, USPS and scores of other federal agencies constantly utilize the FBI’s matchless investigatory expertise. Moreover, given the expansive interpretation by the judiciary of what constitutes interstate commerce, as well as the congressional promulgation of statutes like the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the FBI is regularly drawn into seemingly neighborhood-based events, the investigation of which would otherwise be limited to state authorities. For example, though the recent incident in Ferguson, Missouri involved a local police shooting, and the 2011 Amish “beard-cutting” affair was restricted to rural Ohio, the FBI was nonetheless there to do their job at each venue. How does the FBI maintain its superlative level of effectiveness? One of the Bureau’s important, though less heralded functions, involves the collection, compilation and categorization of crime data from hundreds of sources throughout the country through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). For decades, the Bureau’s Uniform Crime Report Program has been a tremendous resource for sociologists, profilers, investigators and government agencies. One of program’s annual publications, “Crime in the United States” is a virtual almanac of statistical information regarding the most serious offenses perpetrated, including murder, rape, robbery and arson. The numerous tables and graphs break down the offenses by such things as geographic region and demographics as to the perpetrators. The Uniform Crime Reports are essential in assisting agencies nationwide to properly allocate resources in order to maximize the prevention and enforcement of offenses. It is for this reason that a recent decision by the Bureau is so important to our industry. In September, the FBI officially announced that, for the first time, it will report animal cruelty crimes as a separate offense under the agency’s Uniform Crime Report Program. Starting in 2015, hundreds of law enforcement agencies throughout the country will report incidents of animal cruelty in a specific category, rather than as miscellaneous crimes, through the (NIBRS). The Bureau has established four distinct types of animal abuse that it will statistically track: a) simple or gross neglect, such as failing to properly care for a sick animal; b) intentional abuse and torture; c) organized abuse, such as participation in dog fighting rings, and; d) animal sexual abuse (bestiality, etc.), It stands to reason that animal cruelty is a dreadfully underreported crime. Like infants, dogs, cats and horses lack the ability to contact the authorities when they are the victim of abuse. It is only through the observation of caring humans that the abuse is brought to the forefront. With the advent of separate reporting by unique categories, the severity of these criminal acts will be exhibited in an enhanced way. This enhancement is critically important when the victim is a horse. In states like New York, horses are considered to be livestock. While abusing a companion animal like a dog or cat is a felony punishable by years in state prison, abusing a horse is a mere misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in jail. Moreover, horse abuse rarely results in a sentence of jail time. The highlighted recording of acts of abuse against animals will hopefully serve as a springboard in state legislatures for the passing of stricter penalties for criminal acts against all animals, including horses. As the numbers and types of abuse begin to roll in to the FBI, subsequent Uniform Crime Report Program publications will highlight animal cruelty and its severity throughout the country. It is anticipated that the long term result of this tracking will be the creation of, and increased public funding for, specialized law enforcement units charged with combating abuse to animals, as well as more private funding for organizations such as the ASPCA. Animal abuse is especially important to law enforcement because it is generally recognized as a precursor to human abuse. Sadistic serial killers almost always start with the torture of animals. As a child, the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer was fascinated with dissection of dogs and cats so he could see and feel their organs. As he grew older, the fascination became a compulsion, and humans became the target of his depravity. Social scientists have written extensively about the link. For example, the abuse of animals is part of the “Mcdonald Triad.” Named in the 1960s for the psychiatrist that developed the theory, childhood animal cruelty and arson are considered markers for homicidal and predatory behavior in later life. Frustration and anger at repeated instances of humiliation are vented via setting fires and torturing small living creatures. The sociopathic behavior carries into adulthood, with the manifestations taking on literally larger risks and consequences. Clearly, early identification of an adolescent horse abuser could have incalculable, far reaching benefits for society. If just one instance of horse abuse can be prevented, or one budding serial killer can be identified and properly treated, the FBI’s decision should be considered a huge success. Chris E. Wittstruck 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.  

Cheating on your spouse is not very nice; and is still a crime in many places. While prosecutions for Adultery are admittedly rare, the Scarlet Letter crime is still on the books. In fact, at last count it's a criminal offense in 21 states. While liberalized divorce laws in all 50 states have eliminated the need to plead and prove civil grounds for divorce, such as Adultery, some spouses try to encourage prosecution of their wayward betrothed to extract an advantage with issues such as child custody and visitation. Public Intoxication is also a criminal offense in several states, and, unlike adultery, arrests and prosecutions occur with regularity. A related crime, Public Lewdness, occurs when too much beer leads to the need to relieve oneself in an open place. How prevalent are the types of activities described above?  You don’t need to have a degree in the social sciences to conclude that everybody has, and everybody will, do regrettable things during their lifetimes. While not everyone sleeps around or drinks to excess in public, there are those who have shoplifted a candy bar; made graffiti; sold a bootleg recording; hosted a poker game; walked across railroad tracks when the gates were down; passed a joint to a friend (constitutes a drug sale); cheated on their taxes and committed hundreds of other criminal offenses. Imagine someone being permanently banned from participating in pari-mutuel harness racing because his spouse caught him carousing around her back, or because he screamed obscenities in a park at midnight in an inebriated state. Not nice; and possibly criminal activity… but do these actions truly speak to the appropriateness of participation in our industry? Moreover, if the activity occurred away from a racetrack, what possible business would a racetrack management, much less a racing commission, have in using it to judge the character and fitness of an individual who always acts as a professional while in the paddock? Finally, all other things considered, would the penalty of perpetual banishment truly fit the crimes referenced? The stakeholders in our industry have varied opinions when it comes to horse slaughter. Irrespective of my opinion or that of anyone else, the present legal status of horse slaughter in this country is what it is; like it or not.  Against this backdrop, consider the lawsuit presently pending in a Federal District Court in Ohio entitled, Mumaw v. Ohio State Racing Commission. The plaintiffs are longstanding owners and trainers of Thoroughbreds at Thistledown Racetrack. They contend that in 2012 they retired one of their horses by giving it to a woman seeking a riding horse for her children. The plaintiffs did not transfer the Jockey Club registration papers, explaining that they didn’t want the horse to end up racing ever again. They allege that it wasn’t until 2013 that the Jockey Club permitted a “Sold as Retired from Racing” designation on registration papers. Thus, they remained the paper owners of the horse. Shortly thereafter, plaintiffs were contacted by somebody they describe as an animal rights’ advocate who indicated that the horse was purchased at a livestock auction house known as a conduit for horses destined for slaughter. It is alleged that this individual demanded money in exchange for her silence. Plaintiffs state that they balked at what they describe as blackmail, and the advocate then contacted both the stewards and track management. Purportedly based upon a racetrack boarding agreement provision prohibiting any horse from being transported from the track for the purpose of slaughter or to an auction house who sells horses for slaughter, the stewards and racetrack management permanently banned plaintiffs and their horses from participation in racing at the track. The question as to whether plaintiffs received a full, fair, constitutional hearing before the stewards is an open question in the litigation; as is the question of whether plaintiffs knew or should have known that the horse was going to a slaughter auction. The answers to these questions and many others are dependent upon what the court ultimately elicits as the true facts in the case. There are, however, questions that can be addressed without the need for much fact finding.      The truth is that there is no jurisdiction, including Ohio, which makes it a crime to either buy or sell a horse for the purpose of eventual slaughter. In other words, while some may think selling a horse in a grade sale is horribly wrong, nobody has made it criminal. Yes, slaughter is illegal in certain states, but selling a horse with even nefarious intent doesn’t constitute slaughter. Moreover, not every horse at a grade sale necessarily goes to slaughter. In Ohio, some are purchased by Old Order Amish community members for transport or farm work. In fact, it appears from the complaint in the matter that the horse in question was actually purchased by a horse rescuer and never sent to slaughter. Plaintiffs deny that they transported a horse from the track for the purpose of slaughter. Even if they were found to have done so, what was violated was a track rule embodied in a stall application, not a state statute or regulation. While Thistledown management might be allowed to exclude plaintiffs’ from participation at their premises, what authority did the state’s stewards have to enforce a “house” rule? The question is important, because there are other Thoroughbred venues in Ohio where the actions of the stewards could have wide-ranging implications. What’s more, the very validly of house rules have always been a shaky issue. Decades ago, New York’s highest court voided a “policy” which was never promulgated according to state-mandated procedures that required jockeys suspended by the state during the Saratoga race meet to take their days at Saratoga. Years later, a federal judge refused to dismiss a complaint by New York jockey agents which challenged the legitimacy of a house rule limiting them from representing more than one journeyman jockey. In essence, if a house rule adversely affects a licensee, it impinges upon the vested property right granted to him or her via their state-issued occupational license. It’s for this reason that New York’s highest court also invalidated the state’s attempt to delegate licensing authority to the private, non-governmental Jockey Club. In sum, you could commit a crime and not serve a day’s suspension. You could also violate a racetrack’s house rule, not be in violation of a single law or regulation, and be banned for life not only by racetrack management, by the stewards in their official capacity as state commission agents. Don’t think slaughter is good? I don’t either, but that’s not the point. If Ohio doesn’t have a rule on the books, their officials shouldn’t be enforcing the rules of private organizations. Judges should fine and suspend the state licenses of individuals for regulatory violations, not because a private organization doesn’t like something. After all, aren’t the judges beholden to state law and regulation? When track managements persuade the judges to enforce track rules, it gives those non-governmental rules the impermissible imprimatur of the state. That’s just wrong, because while today the issue is slaughter, tomorrow it might be about free speech, driving style or perceived disloyalty.  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. Chris E. Wittstruck Courtesy of The USTA Web Newsroon

There are few, if any, issues facing the harness racing industry where all segments are in complete agreement. Just mention of words like whipping, takeout or Lasix® evokes countless vocal opinions across a broad spectrum. If ever there was a matter on which the entire horseracing community could stand uniformly positioned, it is the obstinate insistence by the Internal Revenue Service to treat horseplayers differently from all other types of investors with regard to withholding of portions of their winning wagers. On June 6, the United States Trotting Association joined a chorus of prominent industry groups, publications and federal officeholders in calling on the I.R.S. to stop harming racing by failing to either understand or appreciate the unique nature of 21st century pari-mutuel betting. This lack of knowledge or concern results in the unfair calculation of the amount of tax withholdings assessed against handicappers who successfully prevail when playing super-exotics. Fortunately, much has recently been written about the withholding problem in industry publications. This article will identify the problem; summarize how the industry is attempting to formulate a solution, and how you can play a part in getting the solution implemented. In our grandfathers’ day, tracks offered only win, place and show wagering, later adding a revolutionary bet called the daily double. In essence, it was difficult to make an outrageous score on a $2 wager. Very few horses go off at 99-1 or better, and only an infinitesimal amount of them actually win.   Only the rare daily double pays in the hundreds of dollars. Today, the superfecta, pick-six and other combination and parlay offerings constitute the lion’s share of wagers made on horse races. These dominant betting opportunities often produce payoffs in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single $2 wager. Of course, winning the big one is usually not simply an exercise of pure luck; professional players often invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars in an attempt to cover as many potential outcomes as possible. By anticipating the probable value of a payoff, the bettor assesses the risk and intensively wagers accordingly. These plays constitute what is aptly called gambling, but arguably the gamble is little different than, for example, those involved in oil wildcatting or opening of a high-end restaurant. Of course, it’s the province and duty of the I.R.S. to assess and collect taxes. If a bettor hits a score over $600 and the odds are 299-1 or more, the track is required to report the winnings on I.R.S. Form W-2G. In applying this law, consider a bettor who cashes a $50 win ticket on a horse at 50-1 odds and receives $2,550. Since the odds were less than 299-1, there is no reporting requirement. Conversely, if a neophyte bets a single, straight $2 superfecta on his 4-digit street number and hits for $1,000, the lucky first-timer would go home with lots of cash, as well as a copy of Form W-2G which the track uses to report his gain to the I.R.S.       While the reporting rules might appear to produce conflicting results, the true concern involves the area of mandatory withholding on certain winning wagers.  Although the I.R.S. recognizes that legitimate expenses are to be subtracted from gross revenue in calculating taxable profit for a business venture, the problem is that the assessment of tax withholding from supposed “profit” in the racing realm is skewed, to say the least. The applicable section of the Internal Revenue Code requires racetracks to withhold 25% of purported profit when the bettor wins more than $5,000 from a wagering transaction in a pari-mutuel pool with respect to horse races, provided the amount of such proceeds is at least 300 times as large as the amount wagered. From the statutory language, it plainly appears that Congress intended that the total amount wagered into a particular pool be treated as the handicapper’s investment capital. Like in any other business, that capital investment should serve to reduce by equal amount his gross winnings when calculating his profit for withholding purposes. Unfortunately, congressional intent in the tax realm is solely determined by the I.R.S. In a 1976 private letter ruling, a vehicle by which the I.R.S. gives its guidance to taxpayers under a set of submitted facts, the Service determined that only the investment on the actual winning combination counts as the “wagering transaction in a pari-mutuel pool” for tax reporting and withholding purposes. How does the present application of this archaic Service interpretation of the Code create the problem? Assume a gambler invests $800 to cover 400 possible pick-six combinations at $2 a pop. He hits the parlay, and it pays $5,600. While the payout is over $5,000, the fortunate bettor really only received odds of about 6-1 in relation to his investment: or did he? The I.R.S. takes the position that only the wager on the winning combination, and not the other 399, constitutes the specific “wagering transaction” referenced in the Code. In other words, rather than credit his entire $800 outlay in the pick-six pool as congress unmistakably envisioned, the Service credits only the $2 spent on the cashed winning combo. Thus, while only receiving 6-1 on his total investment, his I.R.S. imputed odds are about 2,800-1. This triggers not just Form W-2G reporting, but also a 25% tax withholding on winnings. The racehorse gambler actually walks away from the mutual window with $1,399.50 less of the payoff. The overwhelming majority of horseplayers don’t invest thousands of dollars into super-exotic pools on a regular basis. Should we cry for the successful, high-end handicapping aficionados? Maybe not; but the concern is that some of these folks might place their investment capital elsewhere.  Undoubtedly, some already have. This simply drains the already well-parched pari-mutuel pools. Moreover, by taking 25% of earnings out of the hands of the career players who are still around, the industry loses churn; meaning that instead of being able to wager this money again and again, the sum literally sits on account with the Service unless and until the big gambler can recoup it months later via her federal tax return filing. This decrease in handle, especially in racing states with no alternative gaming, is devastating. Racetrack managements, horsemen, breeders and the state all miss out on countless sums of takeout dollars. Luckily, it doesn’t take an act of congress to reverse this situation. While previous attempts at congressional clarification have failed, the problem isn’t really with the language of the law, but rather with how the I.R.S. inexcusably construes it against horseplayers. Consider a medium-sized retailer who embarks on a $1,000,000 marketing campaign. The endeavor actually yields a 6% increase in gross sales. Would the I.R.S. limit the deduction for the marketing expenditure to $60,000? Hardly. Yet, the I.R.S. withholds pari-mutuel earnings as if only that tiny fraction of the total investment made by the horseplayer allocated to the single winning combo was his cost of doing business. You can help change this surreal circumstance by adding your name to an online petition already supported by thousands of individuals and groups. The petition simply mirrors what at least 17 members of congress have already demanded: That the I.R.S change course and consider the total amount invested by a taxpayer in a pari-mutuel pool when determining whether tax withholding on winnings is warranted. A link to the Petition is here:   Apparently, the Washington-based tax lawyers working for the Service don’t frequent Rosecroft Raceway or Laurel Park. If they did, they’d understand the business of pari-mutuel wagering from the big bettors’ prospective. We can only hope that they amend their tax guidance in this matter soon, while there are still some whales around that can benefit. 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. Chris E. Wittstruck Courtesy of the USTA web newsroom

The rules of harness racing are dictated by the state where the racing activity occurs. All racing ovals are situated within the boundaries of a certain state. By virtue of inherent police power to protect the health, safety and morals of its citizens, each sovereign state independently determines how our sport is conducted. On this score, consider that medication regulations are solely within the purview of the individual state governments. When regulations are deemed to be "uniform," that identity happens only because each of the participating states adopt mirror image rules. Even if they appear to be the same or substantially similar from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the rules are, in fact, unique to each state. Licensing is a function of the state as well and, as everyone in our industry is aware, being licensed in one state in no way guarantees that a license will issue in others.  Federal law was created by the states. The promulgation of the U.S. Constitution was accomplished only because the independent colonies agreed to abdicate a very limited amount of their respective powers to a federal government for the greater good of all. As powerful as the federal government may at times seem, it can only act if a constitutional provision allows it to do so. In the racing realm, the sparse instances of federal regulation occur based upon the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That provision reserves solely to Congress the regulation of commerce across state lines. It makes perfect sense. Imagine if each state developed their own regulations for the size and shape of mud guards on the rear of tractor trailers. Truck drivers would be required to carry scores of different flaps, and to stop and change the flaps at the border of each state. In fact, 55 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court struck down just such state regulations as unconstitutional burdens on interstate commerce. Thus, the Interstate Commerce Clause permits the federal government to regulate things such as interstate simulcasting and the transportation of horses across state lines. So, what about a state law or regulation that prohibits the interstate movement of racehorses for periods of time? Can such rules pass constitutional muster, or should they be struck down as being in conflict with the Interstate Commerce Clause as unnecessarily impeding the free flow of business among the states? These questions are not hypothetical. Several states have regulations geared towards ensuring that there are always enough horses to fill race cards at meets. Both the Pennsylvania Code and New York regulations dictate that a harness horse may not race at a track other than the track where claimed for 30 days or the balance of the current racing meeting, whichever comes first, unless released by the racing secretary. In Maryland, the rules bar a claimed harness horse from racing outside the state for 60 days if the claim was at Rosecroft, or for 30 days if the claim was at Ocean Downs, unless the respective meet ends sooner. Delaware regulations contain a blanket 60 day prohibition on racing a claimed horse out of the state without approval of the track where the horse was claimed. May a state prohibit an owner from immediately racing a claimed horse in another state? That was exactly the question decided by the Kentucky Court of Appeals last month. The case, Jamgotchian v. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, was brought by a Thoroughbred owner who claimed a horse at Churchill Downs in Kentucky in May of 2011. Under Kentucky Thoroughbred rules, the horse was not permitted to race outside the state until the Churchill meet ended on July 4, 2011. In June, the owner entered the horse at Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania. The racing secretary, in consultation with Churchill officials, rejected the entry based upon the Kentucky regulation. The owner claimed that the Kentucky prohibition violated the Federal Interstate Commerce Clause. In its ruling, the court stated that the test to be employed was whether, a) the challenged law is protectionist in measure, or; b) whether it can fairly be viewed as a law directed to legitimate local concerns, with effects upon interstate commerce that are only incidental. In other words, the court initially indicated that not every state regulation affecting interstate commerce is unconstitutional. In applying the test to the regulation in question, the court first reasoned that the general regulation of horse racing is both a traditional and legitimate state function, and is thus a valid exercise of Kentucky’s police power. In its analysis, the court pointed out that out of the thirty-eight states that permit wagering on horse racing, twenty-seven states have a claiming law similar to Kentucky's regulation. In sum, state regulation of claiming is pervasive across the United States. As to whether the regulation is protectionist or discriminatory, the court pointed out that the regulation applied evenly to both in-state and out-of-state licensees. Also, it determined that the effect on interstate commerce is incidental, inasmuch as the prohibition was strictly limited to horses acquired in the claiming realm. The court reasoned that the aggrieved owner could have purchased a horse privately or at an auction sale, and could have freely and immediately raced that purchase elsewhere. Finally, the court concluded that the regulation was limited in duration and scope, inasmuch as it banned transport out of state for racing for only the duration of the meet, which at the outside was just three months. To read the full text of the case, click here:,33&as_ylo=2014 While Kentucky upheld the regulation, it is unclear whether a federal court would agree with the reasoning of the Court of Appeals. That just might be Mr. Jamgotchian’s next move. By Chris E. Wittstruck, who 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.

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