‘Boots on the ground’ gets a big push from AQHA

Posted: April 21, 2017

The American Quarter Horse Association is pioneering cost-effective loaner integrity teams that provide investigative reinforcements for the sport’s big-event days.

The AQHA program was the main focus of discussion during an April 19 panel called “Policing the Backside: A View from the Front Line” on the second of the three-day Association of Racing Commissioners International annual conference on equine welfare and racing integrity.

“The needs are great, but our thoughts are to put our money where our mouth is,” said Janet VanBebber, a former Quarter Horse trainer who serves as Chief Racing Officer for the AQHA. “If we’re going to preach about integrity and improvements in certain areas of our sport, then we need to apply our resources in that same area.”

The AQHA has developed protocols and teams of people to go to tracks, typically for a graded stakes, and provide enforcement assistance to the commission of jurisdiction.

“We don’t try to take control of their racing,” VanBebber said. “Instead we’re just trying to help them if they don’t have their own resources, or knowledge or protocol, to help them pursue having an integrity team. Our hope is they will go on and grow a program within their own jurisdiction.”

The AQHA in 2016 deployed 18 teams ranging from two to nine people—all members of the multi-breed Organization of Racing Investigators—to various jurisdictions. That included five to the Quarter Horse hotbed of Ruidoso, N.M., once to administer out-of-competition testing, and to Los Alamitos in California for the Challenge Championships, she said.

“Accumulatively they could have 200 years of racing experience,” VanBebber said. “More and more jurisdictions are willing to partner with us, realizing that we are just here to help. Integrity touches everybody. One of our greatest responsibilities in racing is to represent the best interests of the gambling public. It also evens the playing field on the racetrack; it protects the horse and the rider.”

VanBebber said last year the program helped uncover 18 contraband and 17 medication violations. “It tells me we’re making an impact,” she said. “But more importantly is the deterrent.”

Tom Sage, executive director of the Nebraska Racing Commission and who has been involved with the AQHA program, calls it a “public-private partnership—and the public part is the commission.

“We are there to assist the commission, so any violation the integrity team would find, we report it right to the commission,” Sage said. “We’re boots on the grounds, we’re the eyes and ears in the barn area. These teams are very beneficial for the jurisdictions, for the racetracks and for the AQHA. I would challenge all the other breeds to get ahold of Janet. Get ahold of myself and others. Every breed should have something like this.”

While the current program centers on the top-end racing, Sage said he could see all breeds creating and expanding quick-hit integrity teams to come in to tracks to address a problem with daily racing.

(Jennie Rees submitted this reported on behalf of the Association of Racing Commissioners International; photo by Nikki Sherman of the PTHA)