Horse racing is a sport that is subject to rules and regulations just like any other. Some countries like Australia and Canada have established national governing bodies which oversee racing for an entire country. Other places like America have state jurisdictions but no national entity. This has caused some controversy and prompted many to advocate for such a body in the United States. The proponents of a national horse racing organization in the U.S. believe that it would help to preserve the integrity of the sport from region to region.
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Horse Racing’s Dark Past
Those who study the past of horse racing cannot escape its dark history. The Sport of Kings was subject to shady practices in its early days. First and foremost among these was race fixing. The manner in which races were contested made the sport perfect for fixed outcomes.
Long before the era of simulcast racing it was only possible to watch horse races in person. Betting on the races was even more difficult. Bets could either be placed on the track or offtrack, but the person taking the wagers was always a bookie. Bookies were often controlled by elements of organized crime like the mafia. There were multiple ways a bookie could rook an unsuspecting bettor.
One way was to take bets on races that had already been ran. This occurred offtrack. Bettors would be led to believe that they were betting on a race that was about to be contested when in fact the race had concluded moments or even hours earlier. The bookie could then offer odds to entice bettors to play a losing horse, knowing all the while that the bet could not be won.
Of course, if a bettor did get lucky and win a large bet on a horse, the bookie could simply refuse to pay the wager on a variety of premises. To whom would the bettor complain? In the best of cases the bettor would find himself face to face with a mafia leader and quickly rethink his ability to collect.
In America there were racing jurisdictions for circuits like New Orleans. Surely this helped matters, right? Wrong. The racing commission in New Orleans was at one time presided over by none other than Frank James. Yes, the outlaw brother of Jesse James controlled horse racing in Louisiana for a while.
Fewer Issues in Canada and Australia
Canada and Australia have long had national governing bodies for horse racing in their countries. The improprieties associated with American racing are not found in these countries on such a grand scale. In the case of Canada, this could be because the Sport of Kings is exactly that. Or Queens, as the case may be.
Queen Elizabeth II and other important members of the Royal Family are regular fixtures at important races in Canada like the Queen’s Plate. In fact, the horseshoe which gives the race its name is so-named for Queen Elizabeth I. Not many individuals would be willing to cheat at a sport which involves royal participants. The Queen for many years owned her own horses.
All jokes aside, the governing bodies of horse racing in Canada and Australia work to preserve a unity among racing circuits that helps to enforce the rules and maintain consistency. Disputes are handled on a national scale and any punishments that are levied carry over from one track to another.
The Need For a National Horse Racing Organization in America
There are several reasons why a national horse racing administration would be useful in America. First and foremost among these is a unified manner to deal with medication violations from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
A few years ago trainer Doug O’Neill accomplished a feat few trainers achieve. A horse he trained was set to compete for the Triple Crown. I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before looking unbeatable in the Belmont Stakes. Unfortunately, O’Neill perhaps underestimated what awaited him in New York.
O’Neill has a long record of suspensions and medication violations on the West Coast. The NYRA takes a hard stance where these violations are concerned. After I’ll Have Another arrived in New York from the Preakness Stakes, the horse seemed in perfect condition. Then, in the week leading up to the Belmont, O’Neill called a mysterious press conference and scratched the horse from the race. He cited an ailment that was never fully substantiated.
Some believe that O’Neill was forced to face the music once he arrived in New York. It may be that the racing officials of the NYRA allowed him the opportunity to save face by scratching. If he had chosen not to scratch, the horse may have been subjected to extra scrutiny.
The presence of a national horse racing organization would likely have prevented such an awkward situation. O’Neill would have been properly vetted long before he made it to New York and any restrictions that prevented him from racing would have been enforced.
Medication violations are an ongoing problem in horse racing. Under the current system, a trainer that has been suspended or lost his license in one jurisdiction can simply apply for a license in another state. One trick that is often used by trainers is to merely assign their horses to an assistant trainer while they are suspended.
What is important here is that a unified governing body in the United States would clarify the rules across the board for all trainers. This, in turn, would provide more integrity for the sport as a whole. Trainers would not be able to evade justice for rules violations by simply moving to another state or letting one of their assistants “train” the horses in their absence.
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