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The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) works hard to protect and provide for the Parx Racing horsemen through the guarantee of live racing, horsemen’s rights, health care and pension for horsemen, benevolence programs, and more.


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Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (PTHA)

  /  Legislative   /  PTHA Hosts THA Meeting; Medication and Racehorse Welfare Main Topics

PTHA Hosts THA Meeting; Medication and Racehorse Welfare Main Topics

Board-with-Mike-THAThe PTHA hosted a quarterly Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association  in Philadelphia meeting at the Hotel Palomar on November 15 and 16. Medication and racehorse health and safety topped the agenda, with most of the second day devoted to reviewing the New York Task Force Report on Racehorse Health and Safety.

In attendance were representatives of THA member associations: Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont/New York; Arlington Park, Hawthorne, and Fairmount Park/Illinios; Laurel and Pimlico/Maryland; Monmouth Park/New Jersey; Delaware Park/Delaware and Parx Racing/Pennsylvania.

“This particular meeting solidified the support of the mid-Atlantic horsemen regarding the health and safety recommendations of the New York Task Force report, and certain reforms with regard to medication,” said Alan Foreman, Chairman and CEO of the THA. “The THA has historically taken a leadership role on these issues, and this was another opportunity for us to do so.”

With a round table format, day one started with each horsemen’s group updating the THA on current issues facing their tracks. Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, horsemen vs. management, workers’ compensation, and the affects of slot machine revenue were just a few of the topics discussed.

A recurring theme was the sometimes difficult relationships between horsemen and track owners, which New Jersey’s Monmouth Park horsemen solved by leasing the historic track from its owners, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

What most horsemen’s groups shared was a concern for track management and horsemen to work together, a desire to maintain or increase their number of racing dates, to protect their purse structure, and to educate their local government on the importance of the Thoroughbred racing industry to their states.

Early in the discussions, it became apparent that the PTHA itself has taken the lead in working closely with management, handling many of the issues discussed, and is a model in many ways for tracks in other jurisdictions.

PTHA President Sal DeBunda offered that the reason Parx Parx Racing’s management and our horsemen work so well together in Pennsylvania is a result of hard work, mutual respect and trust.

“Mike Ballezzi and I, along with our board, helped build that relationship,” Said DeBunda. “It was long, slow and often difficult work.”

Day Two centered on the New York Task Force Report on Racehorse Health and Safety, which was created in response to the number of breakdowns at Aqueduct last winter and Governor Cuomo’s concerns about the safety of New York racing.

Discussion of the Task Force report soon led to concern over the use of the steroid and bronchiodilator clenbuterol, and the overuse of intra-articular injections.

Dr. Scott Palmer, past-president of the AAEP, owner of the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Clarksburg, NJ, and the leader of the Task Force investigation, explained the depth of the study and its final recommendations.

“The problems are not just limited to New York,” said Palmer. “And the recommendations can be for any racing jurisdiction. There is a need to increase the scrutiny of the horses, and increase the accountability of those responsible for those horses. We need to do this to build the fan base, and to do so would show that we care about the issue and are moving forward.”

PTHA Executive Director Mike Ballezzi indicated that the PTHA is on board with accountability, but noted there is an inherent danger. “We have a statute in Pennsylvania that if a trainer is suspended twice, he can be barred from racing,” he said. “His career is at stake, so as long as there are such severe penalties, we need to push back with the science that can support it.”

Alan Foreman said that although safety is an issue that resonates with all of us, every jurisdiction has different rules. “There is the notion in the industry that Congress will not regulate our racing,” he said. “The conclusion in Washington, however, is that our industry is very unorganized, and that we do not have a united front. The New York Times articles are believed.”

Foreman was referring to a continuing series of articles written by New York Times reporter Joe Drape which has consistently been critical of, what he writes, is a lack of concern over the safety of both horses and jockeys, which he says has to do with the use of illegal medication, and the lack of rules and penalties for its abuse.

“The Task Force recommendations can be implemented nationally,” he said. Everyone, including the media, is sitting back and saying ‘now what?’ New York reacted quickly because of the Governor’s orders, but for all of us, the worst thing we can do is to not do anything.”

DeBunda felt optimistic about the results of the meeting, and felt the group, working together, could help with some very important changes to racing.

“We rejoined the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association a year ago,” he said. “We felt that the problems facing the horsemen are multi-state, and we needed to be a part of solving them. On the table these last two days were many problems that the PTHA has conquered, and we could offer our experience to those who are now where we had been in the past.

“We found that we share the need to continue to make it a priority to educate our legislators and management regarding the importance of racing, we need to monitor the public’s view of our industry in order to raise our fan base, and to do that, we will continue to put the safety of the horses and riders at the top of the list.” Even if you were very careful, even if you hardly made any unnecessary movements, you still felt that constant quiver of a profound lack of confidence in the possibility of existence