Posted: Nov. 29, 2016
The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, with five affiliates in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions and one that represents horsemen in Chicagoland, has developed a reputation for attaining consensus and executing on programs. That’s not easy to do consistently over a period of more than 20 years.
As a native of New Jersey, the MATCH Series (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships) of the late 1990s was one of my favorite programs because it placed the focus on racehorses and their connections based in a closely knit but diverse region of major importance to the sport.
This innovative concept, created by the fledgling Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, had a good run until the early 2000s when it fell by the wayside because of uncertainty over racing schedules at various tracks and funding issues. Importantly, however, the series was an example of what can be accomplished with cooperation among sometimes-competing interests.
MATCH required a buy-in year after year from partner tracks and racing secretaries and, though it was created by the THA, non-THA affiliates participated at their respective tracks.
A little more than a decade later, the Mid-Atlantic region took a bold step forward by launching a plan for consistent state-by-state rules for regulation of medication and drug testing. The program, known as the Mid Atlantic Uniform Medication and Drug Testing Program, was hatched by the THA.
As of today, all eight states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the largest concentration of Thoroughbred racing on a daily basis, have fully adopted the four components of what is now called the National Uniform Medication Program, and it is being enacted throughout North America.
The Mid-Atlantic effort required participation by regulatory agencies in each state–hardly a simple objective. In addition, though the plan was rooted in the THA, National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association affiliates in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia signed on, as did all of the region’s racetracks.
It was a completely cooperative effort for the best interests of the sport. The influence of the THA to facilitate consensus for the greater good of racing often gets lost in the discussion.
In the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, the organization represents horsemen at racetracks that compete with each other for horses. Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course, two Illinois tracks represented by the Illinois THA, are in a similar situation in the congested Midwestern region that includes Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, all of which have solid racing programs with higher purses in most categories.
It’s a challenging time for racing in the United States, but that has been the case for quite a while. As noted, however, there can be forward progress with leadership.
After more than 25 years as a journalist covering the U.S. horseracing industry, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred, I’m no stranger to writing about dysfunction. It’s inevitable. I encountered it right out of college covering municipal government and politics for two newspapers in South Jersey.
Reporting about it is one thing; allowing it to control the dialogue is another. Horse racing has a penchant for throwing itself under the bus even though an overwhelming number of participants in the business agree overall on what’s most important, such as the health and welfare of horses and jockeys, integrity and uniformity, cultivation of fans and horseplayers, and ownership development.
An honest assessment of progress can only be based upon history and the current landscape of a sport that has no league office and is regulated by the states. That’s the reality no matter what the future holds in regard to industry structure.
Racing has come a long way over the last eight years in the areas of aftercare programs and advocacy for retired racehorses, equine health and safety, and medication regulation against a difficult backdrop of static wagering and an outdated pari-mutuel revenue model that struggles to compete with other forms of gambling; reliance on casino purse supplements that are increasingly threatened; and a declining foal crop that has many racetracks struggling to fill fields.
A Pollyanna I’m not, but what has been accomplished by the THA in key areas should not be taken lightly or dismissed. It should be recognized, and that’s one reason I decided to shift into communications and pursue this opportunity with the THA. Despite what you may have witnessed during this year’s presidential election cycle, objectivity has an important place in journalism, communications, and even advocacy.
Many of the positive changes in racing have been driven by the THA and its representative groups in cooperation with its racetrack partners–medication and equine welfare and safety reforms, the Turning for Home aftercare program at Parx Racing, the Maryland Horsemen’s Health System, and the ongoing revival of the Maryland racing industry to name a few–and have served as templates for other jurisdictions.
So as I transition professionally and return to the Mid-Atlantic region after 22 years in Central Kentucky, I do so with an understanding that the horseracing industry is–and will continue to be by its very nature–a work in progress. There is, of course, much more to be done, but past performances suggest there is far more to gain by setting an example with commitment, cooperation, and consensus.
I look forward to working with the THA and bringing a new perspective on industry issues.
Tom LaMarra is Managing Editor of tharacing.com