Posted: April 21, 2017
Longtime Maryland Racing Commission Executive Director Mike Hopkins and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium April 20 received the highest awards given by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
Hopkins received the Len Foote Award, which recognizes exemplary service and contribution to racing integrity by a commission executive director as chosen by his or her peers. The award is named in honor of the late Len Foote, longtime executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, and is considered the highest distinction for racing officials in North America and the Caribbean.
The RMTC was given the William May Award, which recognizes an individual or entity that has had a profound positive impact on professional racing. It is named for the late William May, who in the 1970s was one of the most powerful chairmen in the history of the Kentucky Racing Commission.
Hopkins grew up on his family’s farm, helping care for six stallions and more than 100 broodmares. At age 12, he worked the Fasig-Tipton yearling sales in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for Maryland’s famed Windfields Farm.
His first racetrack job came in 1980 at Pimlico Race Course, where he took tickets from fans entering the infield tunnel on Preakness Day. Hopkins, who spent 12 years as a steward and remains an accredited official, became deputy director of the MRC in 1984 and executive director in 2002. He also is Chair-Elect of ARCI.
Hopkins has been instrumental in positive developments in Maryland, including implementation of the National Uniform Medication Program and, according to his colleagues, is the only racing regulator who has wrestled a 500-pound black bear.
That came in his early 20s, when an old professional wrestler toured towns and taverns with a declawed bear, challenging young bucks to wrestle the animal. Hopkins admits that the stewards would have declared the bear the winner.
“My brother called me and said, ‘What are you doing tonight? We’re all going to this bar. We’re going to wrestle a bear,’ ” Hopkins recalled. “The way it was described to me is that to beat the bear, you had to get the bear on his back, feet up in the air. That wasn’t going to happen. I think the bear won; the bear did win.
“Let’s put it this way: I was watching my brother try to tangle with it a little bit, and the next thing I know, my brother’s head is bouncing off the wrestling mat like a sack of potatoes and the bear jumping on him.”
Hopkins said he benefited from great mentors, including “Mr. Preakness” Chick Lang, Bowie Race Course general manager Al Karwacki, Bowie board member Joe McLoone and Laurel Park general manager Ken Shertle.
“Just a multitude of people,” Hopkins said. “Even growing up, there was Joe Hickey, the writer who worked for Windfields when I worked for them.”
The RMTC strives to develop and promote uniform rules, policies and testing standards at the national level, along with coordinating research and educational programs that seek to ensure the integrity of the sport and the health and welfare of racehorses and participants, while also protecting the racing public’s interests.
“Without their contributions, I’m not sure many of us would have been as successful as we’ve been in the areas of drug testing, medication and medication uniformity, funding of research, development of lab standards, model RFP for bidding for lab services,” ARCI president Ed Martin said. “Running that organization is, frankly, kind of a thankless job. But the effort made is enormous. The executive committee thought that if RMTC was not here, how much harder all of our jobs would be.”
Said RMTC Executive Director Dionne Benson: “If we were to bring everybody up on this stage who contributed–members of our scientific-advisory committee, our board, those who serve on committees–there would be very few people left in the audience. Combine that with the trust put into RMTC and our recommendations by the regulators, we wouldn’t be an organization without those groups.
“This is a great reflection of the collaboration among all the industry groups that RMTC represents. We are very honored to accept this award on behalf of all the people who work so hard for RMTC.”
(Jennie Rees submitted this story—and the photo of Mike Hopkins and Dr. Dionne Benson—on behalf of the Association of Racing Commissioners International)