The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HiSA) got off to a solid start last month when Maryland attorney Charles Scheeler was elected by fellow directors to chair the nine-person board that will act as an independent oversight body on medication and safety issues for Thoroughbred racing in the United States.
The board includes some names that should be familiar to horse racing people (i.e., former Breeders’ Cup and National Thoroughbred Racing Association executive D.G. Van Clief Jr., retired Keeneland president Bill Thomason, former New York Racing Association chief financial officer and president Ellen McClain, and Joseph De Francis, whose family previously owned Maryland tracks Laurel and Pimlico).
But there are others who bring major league sports experience to the Authority. Adolpho Birch spent 23 years at the National Football League’s headquarters focusing on enforcement of integrity and drug issues, while Leonard Coleman served as president of Major League Baseball’s National League (and is a former member of the Churchill Downs Inc. board of directors).
From the world of politics comes board member Steve Beshear, who served as Kentucky’s attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor (his son Andy is Kentucky’s current governor). Dr. Susan Stover from the University of California at Davis has blazed a trail of ground-breaking research on equine injuries and prevention. Scheeler played a significant role in Major League Baseball’s Mitchell Report, which investigated the use of performance-enhancing drugs in that sport.
It is an outstanding group with a variety of skill sets that should work well together as the industry moves into uncharted waters with the development of national rules on medication and safety issues that will require the approval of the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C.
The Authority’s second step from the gate was a stumble – temporarily it is hoped – with the appointment of industry organization veteran Hank Zeitlin as interim executive director. Zeitlin is like that retread football coach with a mediocre record who keeps finding new teams to give him a chance. He’s gone from management positions at The Jockey Club, to Equibase, to the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America in an undistinguished manner.
I’m going to take Scheeler’s word for it that Zeitlin is being hired on an interim basis only – that Zeitlin’s institutional knowledge will be somewhat useful as Scheeler and other board members get up to speed. He is not the person for the job long-term if the Authority is looking for a dynamic executive as its leader.
I’d almost forgotten that there still is a Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America and that Zeitlin was collecting an industry paycheck from them. The TRA is not to be confused with the NTRA – the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. They are two distinct groups in racing’s alphabet soup of organizations.
I’m not even sure what the TRA does any more, except to count and pass through the money its racetrack members earn for their ownership share of Equibase, the industry’s official database that the TRA tracks co-own with The Jockey Club (TJC). Long ago, including during Zeitlin’s tenure there as president, the Equibase board decided the company’s primary role was to be profitable rather than to serve as a marketing and growth tool for Thoroughbred racing as almost all other sports use their historical data.
Does the industry still need the TRA? Does it really need the NTRA? Can it get by without the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, or the Association of Racing Commissioners International?
This might be a good time for a downsized industry to look at consolidating some of these organizations and their responsibilities. TRA could probably outsource Zeitlin’s current job as its executive vice president to an accountant. The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, a subsidiary of TRA that once served as an important integrity and security division for horse racing, may fulfill some role in connection with the Authority, particularly when it comes to wagering security, the primary area in which the TRPB is now involved.
The NTRA is a ghost of what it was originally designed to be when it was established nearly 25 years ago. Having long ago given up on being a “league office” for horse racing, the NTRA in recent years has focused on lobbying in Washington, D.C., running a profitable handicapping tournament, and presenting the Eclipse Awards. With NTRA president Alex Waldrop announcing that he will retire at year’s end, this might be an opportune time to divvy up those responsibilities to existing groups like The Jockey Club or Equibase and save some money on salaries.
Same goes for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA), whose only real purpose is the grading of North American stakes. Since The Jockey Club prepares the statistical data at TOBA’s behest for the annual grading process, that responsibility could easily be transferred. TOBA has been operating in the red in recent years, with its chief executive taking home roughly 30% of the organization’s annual revenue.
And what about the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI)? Its primary function seems to be the development of model rules for a variety of activities in racing, including medication and safety policies. With those two categories falling under the Authority’s umbrella, there will be a lot less meat on the bone for ARCI president Ed Martin to chew on.
Nothing will change, of course. Some of these organizations with uninspired leadership have evolved into nothing more than jobs programs, and they’re not going away. Racing cannot afford to let the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) be steered toward mediocrity and become just another ingredient in racing’s bland alphabet soup. Its success is too important.
That’s my view from the eighth pole.
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