Jockey Club favors ban on steroids

The Jockey Club has endorsed a prohibition on the unregulated use of anabolic steroids and is willing to support penalties for owners whose horses test positive for illegal medications, the Jockey Club chairman, Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, said Sunday.

Phipps made his comments at the Jockey Club's Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. At the conclusion of a one-hour segment that focused on efforts to combat illegal drug use in racing, Phipps said that the Jockey Club would attempt to convene a meeting "among all interested parties" in the next month to develop a drug plan.

"We're going to sit down with people who feel the same way and we're going to figure out a way to move this needle and move it quicker," Phipps said. "We feel a groundswell from a number of places that they are tired of drugs."

The U.S. is the only major racing country that allows the unregulated used of anabolic steroids, which build muscle and help horses recover from strenuous exercise. The Jockey Club had not previously taken a position on the use of anabolic steroids. Earlier this year, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry funded group, began work on a model rule that would prohibit the unregulated use of anabolic steroids. The rule would allow only the use of four specific anabolic steroids and would limit their use to at least 30 days before a race.

The RTMC has also developed guidelines for penalties for owners whose horses test positive for banned drugs, but only three states -- Indiana, Kentucky, and California -- have adopted the guidelines as rules. Those rules prohibit owners from starting horses who have tested positive on multiple occasions for performance-enhancing drugs.

During his concluding remarks at the conference, Phipps said that the Jockey Club had been opposed to owner penalties in the past. However, Phipps said, the Jockey club's board had reconsidered its opposition because of a failure by the sport's owners to distance themselves from trainers who have been suspended for medication violations.

"To be quite candid, the stewards of the Jockey Club think it is a disgrace that numerous racehorses in our sports most prominent and highly visible races are routinely trained by people who have repeated medication-related violations," Phipps said. "If owners are picking trainers who are routinely fined or suspended for medication infractions, we should reconsider an owner responsibility rule."

The public position taken by the Jockey Club on these two issues is largely symbolic although it does carry the weight of one of the most powerful organizations in racing. The Jockey Club keeps the registry for the Thoroughbred breed and owns or co-owns a number of important financial, data, and charitable companies. In addition, many of the members of the board are among the most prominent and powerful owners and breeders in the country.

During earlier presentations, Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the RMTC, said that racing will have difficulty combating illegal drug use unless states significantly increase the amount of funding that they devote to drug testing. Waterman said that funding for racing's myriad laboratories in 1991 was a total of $27 million, and that the number in 2006 had increased to only $30 million. Waterman estimated that funding needs to be increased by an additional $15 million to support adequate drug-testing measures and give laboratories incentives to research new tests.

Waterman's call for funds was repeated by Nick Nicholson, the president of Keeneland Association, which supported the establishment of the Equine Drug Research Initiative two years ago. The initiative, which funds research at the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, has resulted in the development of a number of new tests to detect low levels of beta-2 agonists, a class of dugs that includes the bronchial dilators clenbuterol and albuterol.

Nicholson said that the initiative needs continued funding. Two years ago, the initiative had sought to raise $3 million. This year, the laboratory is focusing its efforts on developing a test to detect blood-doping agents such as erythropoeitin and darbepoietin, according to the lab's director, Dr. Don Catlin.

The other key issue discussed at the Round Table was account wagering, which underwent an upheaval earlier this year when some racing signals were removed from several in-home betting companies. The problem is not likely to be resolved anytime soon, according to executives of the companies that are on opposite sides of the issue.

Bob Evans, the chief executive officer of Churchill Downs Inc., said during a presentation that Churchill believes that the current economic model governing the distribution of racing signals and the compensation that the industry receives from account wagering has a "fatal flaw" that is being magnified by the practices of Television Games Network. Because of that flaw, Evans said, the current system "costs too much" and needs to be reworked.

Earlier this year, Churchill Downs Inc. formed a partnership with Magna Entertainment Corp., the country's largest racetrack operator, to market simulcast signals. The partnership included the purchase by Churchill of a half-share in Magna's television network, HorseRacing TV, and the launch of Churchill's own account-wagering company.

As a result, Churchill pulled its racing signals from TVG and declined to sell its signals to Youbet.com, one of the country's largest online betting companies, unless Youbet dropped a contract that allowed it to offer wagering on signals controlled by TVG.

Evans said that TVG's model of controlling racetrack signals "hasn't done anything to grow handle" since the network's inception eight years ago. Churchill will not make its signals available to TVG and Youbet.com until TVG makes its content available to other account-wagering operators, Evans said.

Evans said that Churchill will not likely enter into any additional negotiations with TVG until the network's "future is resolved." TVG's parent company, Gemstar-TV Guide, recently began exploring acquisition options, and Evans said that those options could complicate any deals that Churchill might reach with the company before a sale.

David Nathanson, the general manager of TVG, appeared after Evans's presentation and emphasized that TVG's track partners have benefited from their exposure on the network through handle gains both on and off the track. Nathanson said that TVG would not have made an investment in building a television network unless it controlled "unique content" through exclusive contracts with high-profile racetracks.

Four times during his presentation, Nathanson said, "People will bet on what they can watch on television," highlighting the network's availability in 30 million homes in the U.S. TVG is more widely distributed than HRTV.

After Evans and Nathanson made their remarks, Alan Marzelli, the president and chief operating officer of the Jockey Club, said that Churchill's and TVG's positions were harming the industry by inconveniencing horseplayers, and he drew a parallel to the damage wrought on Major League Baseball when a players' strike in 1994 led to rapid declines in attendance that did not recover for five years.

"Can racing afford to do the same?" Marzelli said. "We think not."

Marzelli presented a petition from racing fans that was started at paceadvantage.com calling on the rival companies to make their signals available to each other's account-wagering platforms. The petition was signed by more than 400 players, Marzelli said.