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The road to rational reform

Theodore Kaczynski was a Utopian, a pipe-dreamer, an uncompromising idealist. He envisioned a green, pastoral America freed from the trammels of technology. That was his Utopia, his ideal society. And it was an ideal that many people perhaps could embrace.

The problem wasn't so much with his Utopian vision as with his radical pursuit of it. Kaczynski destroyed lives. In his manifesto, he called for a "revolution against the industrial system." And as the leader of this revolution, the Unabomber killed three people and injured 23 others. His methods, not his ideas, made him a terrorist.

Many people have a Utopian vision for horse racing, an ideal permutation of the sport where all the racing surfaces are perfectly safe and fair, all the horses lavishly loved and all the people unimpeachably honorable.


Many people have a Utopian vision for horse racing, an ideal permutation of the sport where all the racing surfaces are perfectly safe and fair, all the horses lavishly loved and all the people unimpeachably honorable. Medication at this ideal racetrack is rarely needed, of course, never used on race day and dispensed only by Utopia's official veterinarians from the Utopian pharmacy. (Bettors, by the way, are all cordial, polite and properly attired.)

World peace would be nice, too. Both are ideals and, like the stars, worth reaching for, but, for all their glitter, do they justify a Unabomber approach? Some folks, in the wake of the now-famous PETA video, seem to be advocating just that: Blow up the sport and start all over; roll the tumbril through the stable area; cart off the unclean, the unpolished and the cheats, or anybody who wins too frequently or unexpectedly; ban all medication from racing, even proven prophylactics; turn regulation over to the Feds; exclude suspicious characters from the Kentucky Derby. And do it all summarily, in pursuit of an ideal, without due process or so much as a hearing, but with prompt justice, or something that might pass for justice among the non-discriminating and the fainthearted.

Prompt justice, or just its appearance, has much appeal. People generally have little patience for reform. Revolution is far quicker, not to mention more theatrical.

But impatience has a long history of disastrous consequences. When the French Revolution, for example, didn't quickly produce the desired results, the Reign of Terror ensued. Maximilien Robespierre even described terror as "la justice prompte," and the tumbrils rolled.

Does horse racing really want a reign of terror, or the chaos that would accompany federal involvement? As for the recent turmoil, does an ethical goal justify unethical methods? Does justice justify injustice? Even in the pursuit of a higher ideal, like Kaczynski's, if people are willing to destroy lives and careers with a semblance of prompt justice, are they any better than those they're so eager to banish?

Actually, revolution is unnecessary. Tumbrils don't have to roll; nobody needs to blow up anything to make way for a quixotic ideal. Only a little patience is needed, along with some forceful encouragement. Reform is underway in horse racing, genuine reform. As Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the chairman of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, recently pointed out, horse racing is "well down a path" leading to the "most comprehensive set of reforms" in the sport's recent history.

Racing already has banned anabolic steroids and created an Equine Injury Database. The NTRA has established the Safety and Integrity Alliance, and the entire industry has come together to create the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

Among major racing states, only Louisiana, Florida and Oklahoma aren't considering the Medication Reforms.


But the big step remains: The Uniform National Medication Reforms -- uniform rules, penalties, guidelines and procedures. For now, they're widely supported; but they need to be universally adopted.

In a recent commentary for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Waldrop pointed out that regulators in states that account for more than 80 percent of the national handle, or money bet, are considering the reforms. Five states already have implemented the Medication Schedule. And since the reforms were, in part, adopted in New York, racing fatalities have declined more than 40 percent.

Among major racing states, only Louisiana, Florida and Oklahoma aren't considering the Medication Reforms, according to Waldrop. Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Iowa and Illinois continue to use non-accredited laboratories. But horse racing has the power to encourage adoption of all the Reforms if only the industry's leaders would find within themselves the necessary fortitude.

If a few states insist on being islands unto themselves and decline to adopt the Medication Reforms, fine. The American Graded Stakes Committee can decline to grade any stakes in those islands. The Breeders' Cup can decline to send its simulcast signal to them. And the Jockey Club can decline to register their foals.

Until we reach the stars, genuine reform will have to do.