SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It is dry and usually a test of the attention span. Once upon a time, it was the only event in town with an open bar at 9 a.m. on Sunday, which some saw as a reasonable payback for the pure effort of attendance. Usually, a nice souvenir -- something useful, unlike, say, a bobblehead -- would await the audience members. When it was over, it was time to move on to the racetrack.
Always, though, the Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing, has drawn the industry's leaders (sorry, we are still in search of movers and shakers) to Saratoga Springs at the invitation of the Jockey Club.
Like almost every Round Table during the last two decades, the 61st on Sunday centered upon discussion of medication and the sport's lack of uniform rules. Medication is the sport's black-sheep uncle -- always there, always potentially scandalous and the topic of far too much conversation.
Other sports have suffered similar problems and taken hard steps to ensure clean competition. Thoroughbred racing must do the same.
”-- Ogden Mills Phipps, Jockey Club
The gathering on Sunday was addressed by officials from Japan and Ireland for reasons that remain unclear if not irrational. The Jockey Club and others are far too concerned about international image when Americans have never been more than peripheral players in Asia and Europe. Yet, medication is a sore spot in the racing psyche. Efforts to create uniform rules and enforcement standards have seen little in terms of progress.
This, from closing remarks made by Ogden Mills Phipps on Sunday:
"Eight states have committed to adopting the national uniform medication program. By next June, based upon discussions with regulatory officials, we expect California, Illinois, Kentucky, and Arkansas to be on board. But that still leaves 17 other states operating under different rules. Ladies and gentlemen, that is not uniformity.
"The recent poll you heard about today told us in no uncertain terms how both casual fans and avid horse players feel about medication and the integrity of the competition. Clearly our wagering handle and our business are being compromised.
"The international community is watching us closely, and still wondering why this country allows such liberal medication policies. We know that Congressional leaders are frustrated with the speed of our reforms, and if we don't get our own house in order, they'll do it for us. In fact, there are Congressional staff members in the room today, and others watching on the video stream.
"The facts are clear. If we care about the future of our sport, our equine athletes cannot be burdened by the taint of drugs. Other sports have suffered similar problems and taken hard steps to ensure clean competition. Thoroughbred racing must do the same.
"The Jockey Club has stated in the past it would support any means of achieving uniformity and reform. As you heard today, we are devoting countless resources to that goal.
"The clock is ticking. If the current medication reform effort stalls, The Jockey Club may well lend its support to federal legislation."
The Jockey Club "may well" support federal regulation of horse racing?
Better to stop and think about that for a bit.
Name any industry that benefits from federal regulation.
The medication issue, as is stands, is clearly preferable to federal regulation, which would mean new bureaucracy, new laws and new taxes and guarantee nothing.
True, progress has been slow. Opinions differ and are closely held.
But be careful what you wish for.