Baffert speaks and beleaguered thoroughbred industry should listen By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports April 1, 2020 at 8:00 pm Bob Baffert knows all about high stakes. And the stakes couldn’t be higher in his beloved thoroughbred racing industry these days. The trainer famous for his Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify and a long list of other major victories are easy to find on race day. He’s the man with the shock of white hair standing in the winner’s circle. Now he’s standing up for federal reform of horse racing at a pivotal moment in the increasingly controversial sport. His colleagues should listen. Baffert didn’t start out on the side of federal reform. He was opposed to it, but the recent federal indictment of 27 people, including two top trainers, in a wide-spread corruption scheme changed his mind. The indictment out of the Southern District of New York describes a conspiracy to give racehorses performance-enhancing drugs and other banned substances that masked pre-existing injuries and caused further injury and the deaths of animals. Horse trainer Bob Baffert is interviewed after a Triple Crown win/Shutterstock In an op-ed published March 13 in The Washington Post, Baffert reflected, “Horse racing is experiencing the most profound crisis in the long history of the sport. To emerge stronger, we must act decisively to protect the horses who are the stars of the show; nothing else will restore the confidence of fans, gamblers, and the general public. And that means federal action.” The racing industry is hobbled by a wildly inconsistent system governed by 38 state racing jurisdictions. Each has its own regulatory body and regulations, much of which historically has been politically influenced. It’s not just inadequate. It’s leading to disastrous results and, as the recent indictment describes, massive corruption of the sport and its athletes. “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our equine and human athletes, and nothing impacts their health and safety more than the policies and procedures concerning drugs,” Baffert writes. If that sounds like a marketing pitch from the industry, it probably is. But now Bob Baffert is standing up and standing behind the words. The answer is federal regulation through the Horse Integrity Act (HIA) that was being debated in Congress until the coronavirus pandemic. Introduced last year in the House by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the bill managed to break through the partisan divide. Last June, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The legislation would enable the creation of a private, nonprofit governing body of experts to carry out national drug policies and procedures with the power to issue penalties under the mantel of the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority. It would constitute a national standard of drug rules for the sport. “I have held off supporting the HIA until now because I’ve questioned whether the benefits of creating a new layer of federal regulation would outweigh the burdens,” Baffert writes. “However, these federal indictments have convinced me that horse racing needs immediate and drastic action to fix a broken system.” Baffert is one of a growing number of racing insiders who are sick of the scandal and are seeking reform. Count Mark Casse in the same camp. And the trainer who won two legs of the Triple Crown last year with different horses has even stronger words for the cheaters and the tracks that enable them. “I blame a lot of different individuals or organizations for what was allowed to continue to happen,” Casse said in an article published in the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I think some of these racetracks, they know there’s a problem, they just don’t know how to stop it.” Rules don’t stop cheaters. Investigators do. He suggests the new agency include an ability to ferret out the cheaters. Sports can’t just market their integrity. They have to demand it. “I think what happens, you in life you have to figure out what’s more important, winning at all costs or your integrity,” Casse said. “I think sometimes owners and trainers and racing managers and bloodstock agents worry only about winning. … It’s just so frustrating when you work, and you work, and you work, and you know you’re not getting beat by a horse or a better trainer but by a drug.” The coronavirus pandemic has forced the postponement of the Kentucky Derby until Sept. 5. The industry’s leaders and all those who care about the sport should use this time of reflection to lobby their members of Congress for the passage of this important piece of legislation. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.