The first day of the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law addressed many aspects of the impact of equine welfare on the diverse breeding and racing industry. The panels included leaders from veterinarian medicine, horse owners, trainers and experts on transitioning horses to other duties after their racing careers have ended.
Highlights from the day included a morning session kicked off by the always entertaining and insightful Dr. Jerry Bilinski, DMV (who is also the most recent subject of last week’s “Pick 4”), along with panelists Ronald Perez, Jr. and Fiona Farrell. The panel discussed identification and recognition of inhumane treatment of horses and the legal standard relating to poor treatment of horses. Most notably, while it is easy to identify extreme cases of inhumane treatment, panelists explored the many “gray areas” where defining the subjective term “inhumane” is sometimes difficult under the current applicable legal standards.
The remainder of the panels on the first day of the conference explored the hot industry topic of “what do we do with race horses after they retire?” Perhaps unrealized by much of the general public is that race horses often live for another two decades after retiring from racing. As a result, finding an appropriate home and support structure for the horse is one of the biggest challenges in the industry. One of the most striking presentations of the day was by John Holland, president of Equine Welfare Alliance. Mr. Holland provided ample data showing that it is simply not plausible under the racing industry’s current structure to adequately care for all – or even the large majority – of retired race horses. Therefore, structural and cultural changes must occur within the industry and/or “other” options must be explored.
As to those “other” options, Scott Palmer, DMV, of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, addressed the sensitive topic of the appropriate use of euthanasia. Mr. Palmer noted that there are differences of opinion on the use of this and posed the question of whether or not it was appropriate to euthanize a horse, if you are reasonably sure that the alternative is likely to include poor or inhumane care.
Continuing on the theme of retired race horses, a number of the panels debated how to best incentivize or fund aftercare programs designed for retired race horses. Facing the difficult challenge of finding “homes” for hundreds of race horses each year, the panelists debated who should be responsible for funding such long-term care (trainers, owners, jockeys, purses) and whether such funding should be mandatory or voluntary. Regardless, almost all of the panelists appeared to agree that the current system is not working for the long-term benefit of either the horses or the industry.
The final panel of the day discussed the issue of horse safety on the race track. The star studded panel consisted of Dr. Bilinski, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, equine surgeon Lisa Fortier, veterinarian Kraig Kulikowski, trainer and president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Richard Violette, and the straight talking owner and attorney Maggi Moss. To begin, moderator Dr. Bilinski posed the question of whether the horse racing industry was facing a real problem with horses “breaking down” as highlighted by a series of recent articles in the New York Times. While the panelists’ responses differed as to possible reasons for a recent perceived increase in racing related injuries, most of the panelists seemed to agree that a problem did exist and needed to be addressed by the industry as a whole. Who is responsible for this problem and how to fix it, however, was an area of disagreement. All panelists referenced the expected August 21st release of the report on a rash of breakdowns earlier this year at Aqueduct.
By the end of the day, the expert panels had wrestled with a number of difficult issues, many of which have been facing the horse racing industry for decades. One of the reoccurring themes, however, was the industry would benefit from more research, more discussion, and more interest in the continued care of retired race horses. The depth and candor of the discussion again highlighted the marquee quality of the Albany Law School’s annual event.
Day two of the conference continues today with a focus on gaming in New York.