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A Push For Racing Integrity

Published: November 14, 2019 11:45 am ET

Last Comment: November 14, 2019 3:03 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

"People [in racing] have to take a good look in the mirror and say 'what am I doing? I'm hurting the product, I'm hurting the future of this industry' and if people [outside of racing] don't perceive that it's clean then it's fair that they're going to turn away from it."

Trot Insider recently discussed a number of racing topics with the CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, including why he feels Woodbine (and horse racing) should be involved if single-game sports wagering is legalized and how it could benefit both the racing industry and government, as well as the recent success of 2019 Breeders Crown series at Woodbine Mohawk Park and the current pilot project that has moved the 10 horse to a trailing post and added 1-3/8 mile races with 11 starters at Mohawk for the next two months.

The fourth and final part of Lawson's interview, focusing on racing integrity and potential development at Woodbine Mohawk Park, appears in a Q & A format below.

SC: One other topic you touched on in the Stronger Together session was the issue of integrity and trying to do a better job internally of competing and participating with integrity. You made a very interesting point when you said that you feel the view of North American racing outside of North America is that North America is not competing on a level playing field.

"Yes. I have no question about that. Because of the fact that I deal internationally more on the Thoroughbred side with France and with Hong Kong, and Ireland and Australia, there's no question that the view is that North America -- not just singling out Canada -- does not run clean. Part of that comes back to race-day Lasix, but it's certainly much more than that in terms of medications. You need to look at nothing more than the fines and suspensions that the AGCO hands out both on the Thoroughbred side and the Standardbred side to back up that statement. We're constantly -- and I don't want to name names, you look them up and you see the suspensions and you see the fines -- we're constantly dealing with people trying things and it goes on regularly. And I think, once again, we're only hurting ourselves as a sport. When I made the earlier comment about trying to increase wagering by using trailers -- it's not a stretch, I'm just using the same example -- and using distances, all we're trying to do is increase interest in our wagering product. And if the perception -- and I think it's very real, because you hear it over and over -- is that North America is not clean then the people have to take a good look in the mirror and say 'what am I doing? I'm hurting the product, I'm hurting the future of this industry' and if people don't perceive that it's clean then it's fair that they're going to turn away from it.

"People are always finding ways to stay ahead of the regulators. We know that, and it's been going on for a long time but I think with better testing and more enforcement and awareness we're still finding that people are doing a lot of things and we're not helping ourselves. So my statement, again, over and over, is you're only hurting yourself. You know with the way this industry works, your children want to be in this industry, your grandchildren want to be in the industry, that's how this industry works...and you're hurting the future of this industry. Our only sales are wagering, and our only income, really, is from our wagering. If people aren't going to bet on our product because it's perceived to be not a clean product to bet on, we've got to change the attitude toward it and right now I'll say that -- again, I keep repeating this mantra -- that if you can get away with it, it must be OK. And the worst thing is, and this does happen, when trainers see other trainers get away with it and they say 'if I can't beat 'em I better join 'em.' So next thing you know you've got someone else trying something illegal.

"It's frustrating, and I think we need kind of a grassroots see it in Olympic sports and cycling and others that have gained a lot of see it in football. I'm Chairman of the Canadian Football League and you really need that grassroots [movement] at amateur levels in football and hockey, you need to drill it into the kids that it's just not OK to do this. Just don't do it. And you don't tolerate anyone in your dressing room or anyone you hear of saying 'oh, let's do some steroids, you'll get really strong in a few months.' That's just a culture you've got to grab at the grassroots level and just [say] that it's not OK to do those things....People are very reluctant to call out other trainers or other people who are doing these things. Other trainers and other veterinarians. That culture has to change from if I'm getting away with it, it's OK. You can look at amateur hockey and you can look at amateur football and you can just use the perfect analogy that everyone attitude has to change to say it's not OK to do those things.

SC: So in other jurisdictions where they have a better grasp of that concept, is it the culture? Is it the regulator having a heavier hand or is it a mix of the two that makes those jurisdictions, in your opinion, better than what we offer here?

"It's a mix of both but I think that it just hasn't become part of the culture. I really believe -- we're probably talking on the Thoroughbred side, because those are the people I've talked to -- I really believe some world-class trainers who will say 'I've never used that drug and I would never that drug, I don't use those drugs...never, never, never. That's just not how I treat my horses. And if they have pain, I give them three months off or four months off. I don't rush them.' And I believe those people, and I believe that's the world and the culture they live in. And we don't do that in North America. I think it has a lot to do with the attitude and the culture towards it, but where it manifests itself is, you get horses that are hurt or not ready to run or in terms of masking pain or electrical therapy, and then the next level is performance-enhancing therapy whether it's drugs that reduce red blood cells. It won't take much for you to talk to people about performance-enhancing drugs through the use of cancer drugs to produce EPO-type drugs for use in horse racing. Why is that OK? And people know it goes on; people tolerate it and people do it, and they're only hurting themselves. So if you have a level playing field, it's going to be better for the sport and better for the horses. And better for the sport in the sense that people will have more confidence in wagering.

"You and I don't know whether someone gives a little EPO pill two days before the races. It can't be detected and everyone knows it can't be detected...but we all know the attitude of some of the trainers is 'I'll never get caught because they don't test for it or they're not capable of testing for it'."

SC: That's always the concern: 'they're not going to get it so I can do it'...not thinking of what else is at play here.

"Right. And let me be clear, and I wish I'd said this at the industry forum, I'm not talking about a majority of people here. I love this industry because I love the hard-working people in it and they have integrity, they work hard and they love the horses. What I'm talking about is that percentage, and I won't try to guess the percentage but it's a very small percentage of people that ruin it for everyone else. I wish I'd said that at the Stronger Together panel that I spoke on, I don't believe this is rampant in the sense of everyone's doing it. I think it's a very small percentage of the people but they're ruining the perception of the sport for everyone. And that's the tough part, because it impacts all of us. The best part about this industry is the people; that's why we do what we do, because we love horses and we love racing but mostly I do it because I love the people and the employment that it creates.

SC: At Stronger Together you mentioned the flood plain and different complexities regarding development at Mohawk. A comment on that if you could.

"For the same reasons we'd like Mohawk to progress to generate cash flow, and one of the things I [keyed in on] at Stronger Together is that we (Woodbine) are one company. Whether the profits come from real estate at Woodbine, or the profits come from real estate at Mohawk, we don't distinguish: we're one company and we will support the Standardbreds and the Thoroughbreds. It doesn't matter that maybe we're ahead of our real estate developement at Woodbine versus Mohawk. There has always been fears in the Standardbred industry that 'oh, Woodbine's putting all of its efforts and money into trying to develop at Woodbine and they're going to help the Thoroughbreds.' That's not at all the way we look at it. That's premise number one: we are one company and we don't think of Woodbine real estate supporting Thoroughbreds and Mohawk real estate supporting Standardbreds. That's clearly established in my mind, and with support.

"Having said that, we would like to find ways to generate additional cash flow [from] the land holdings at Mohawk. It's difficult because, as great as the Town of Milton is, they have very definite views on the official plan of how zoning should be at Mohawk. We have fairly broad commercial zoning west of Guelph Live at Mohawk, and I think that will be market-driven. If we get a real push from a developer or a large user to use some of that space we're clearly in favour of developing that or ground-leasing it to create cash flow for the industry.

"The lagoon area is tough because it's environmentally-sensitive. Much of that land is. There's conservation authority, and the escarpment authority comes [into account]. And so the old backstretch at Mohawk is much more difficult, especially the zoning. I'm of the view that you could put some beautiful low-rise -- one-level, two-level -- townhouses back there. What a great place to live, and people would love it. And with horse trails and the ponds there I think it would be great. Hopefully some day. And we're looking at other uses there, just giving an example. There's some beautiful land there that I think we're very open to and hoping to develop with different uses. And we do have a master plan, and the Town of Milton has seen it. We've entertained different uses today but right now no one has really stepped up with a plan and with money to say that they can do it. And these things are going to take time but we're very open.

"I said at the forum, the area around the grandstand, we'll wait and see whether the gaming operator is interested in further commercial development in the nature of a hotel or in the nature of an entertainment centre...those things would also kind of pick up commercial activity in the area. I think as soon as you did that sort of thing it cries out for a nice restaurant."

November 14, 2019 - 3:03 pmUntil the regulators of this

Peggy Powell SAID...

Until the regulators of this sport start giving fines and suspensions and make them stick, things will never change ie. if you give someone a year or more suspension and a fine then you should have to serve that amount of time, not just a month or two, The way it is now is a joke and we all know it. When they are testing for soda they should not test the same horses week in and week out if that have never tested positive.

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