TUCSON, Ariz. – What do a dog, a ratio, and a randomly generated test have in common?
They are all tools developed recently by racing regulators to address integrity concerns at racetracks, according to panelists appearing on Tuesday afternoon at the annual Symposium on Racing.
The panelists, which included a New Mexico steward, a New York regulatory veterinarian, and a New Mexico racetrack general manager, described the novel developments in a session called “Tools of the Regulatory Trade: Insuring Integrity in Racing.” Although it was the penultimate session of the day, and therefore was not as well attended as earlier panels, the session itself was well received by the conference audience, which included a large number of regulators and operational racetrack staff.
The New York regulatory veterinarian, Jennifer Durenberger, moderated the panel, but she is also the person who developed the ratio, which she has called the Racetrack Veterinary Intervention Ratio, or RVI. Durenberger said she developed the ratio in order to produce an objective measure of a trainer’s relative standing among other trainers for actions that jeopardize the integrity of racing, a tool that could be used as a potential ground for discipline, warnings, or ejections.
The ratio combines a variety of measures – such as the number of medication violations against a trainer and the number of training and racing injuries – and divides them by the total number of the trainer’s starts, Durenberger said. It is intended to be used as a comparison tool against a baseline for a track’s trainer population and inform stewards and management about possible outliers.
“A trainer with a very high RVI, and remember we are talking way above baseline, is essentially a liability to racing,” Durenberger said.
Durenberger said she had used data from a “seasonal meet” at an unnamed track to generate RVIs for the entire training population of 111 trainers, and had found that 108 of the trainers were within three standards deviations of the baseline. The three outliers, however, were responsible for 43 percent of the medication violations at the track during the meet and 31 percent of the fatalities.
“Imagine taking out 3 percent of your population of trainers and reducing your violations and fatalities as much as that,” Durenberger said.
The ratio was praised by the other members of the panel, including Jeff True, the general manager of Ruidoso Downs, which has had its fair share of integrity concerns over the past 10 years, especially with the illegal use of clenbuterol in Quarter Horse racing. True’s own presentation outlined the “racing integrity program” implemented at Ruidoso over the past several years to clean up racing at the track, which includes a number of management-mandated rules and programs that have been used to eject two trainers.
That’s where the dog comes in.
Named Chini, the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois has been imprinted by a police K9 training unit to detect clenbuterol and albuterol, two drugs that can open a horse’s airways and build muscle mass when used regularly. It’s a favorite drug of abuse in both Quarter Horse racing and Thoroughbred racing, but problems with the drug have become far more pronounced in Quarter Horse racing after a crackdown on the drug in Thoroughbred racing.
Chini roams the track’s backstretch with her handler, searching tack rooms and stalls – she can also detect the plastic used in syringes – and so far, “we’ve had no negative comments,” True said. She is believed to be the only dog trained to detect equine drugs at any racetrack in the world.
The third tool outlined on the panel was also developed in New Mexico, by a steward there, Jill Cathey. Cathey said that she had noticed that several people who had taken the state’s trainer’s test had met immediately after with an individual in the parking lot, and she eventually realized that the test takers were memorizing portions of the test in order to put together a comprehensive cheat sheet for the entire test.
So she built a software program that now generates a random test for each individual license applicant, with the test questions modified constantly so that no trainer receives the same questions. As a result, she said, program trainers – conditioners hired to take orders from a person who would be unlikely to receive a license – have been greatly reduced in the state since the system was implemented, she said, and medication violations have also dropped. (The violations, however, declined at the same time that Ruidoso was also implementing its integrity program.)
The only problem with the test developed by Cathey is that trainers have now gotten wise, and they are seeking licenses in other states and then coming to New Mexico to train, Cathey said. For that reason, she urged other states to begin using the software, to reduce incidents of trainers jurisdiction-shopping.
* At an earlier panel Tuesday afternoon, racing officials involved in the expanding world of sports betting discussed the myriad ways in which they are attempting to gauge the interest of sports bettors in horseracing, and vice versa, with many at least encouraged to find that crossover between the two groups is far more prevalent than crossover between slot machines and horseracing.
Jeff Lowich, an official with TVG/FanDuel who is responsible for running the company’s race and sports book at the Meadowlands, said that one “selling point” for encouraging sports bettors to try racing is the relative frequency of racing events. Whereas one college football game can take 3 ½ hours, the race book at the track offers six to eight racing events in one hour, Lowich said.
But Lowich also said that the two crowds at the Meadowlands location show decidedly different demographics, noting that he often takes officials on tour of the facility, where they have to start in one section of the sports book, pass through the race book, and then move on to another section of the sports book.
“The comment I get every time is ‘Wow, this is a different crowd’” in the race book, Lowich said. “There is certainly a difference in age, probably a 25-year difference.”
The panelists all seemed to agree that sports betting would not have a negative impact on horse racing, and that it has the potential to create new horseplayers.
“We’re getting hundreds of people very day at the track that we normally wouldn’t get,” said Brian Skirka, the marketing director of Monmouth Park racetrack, which opened a sports book in the summer.