Pan Am Conference wraps up with insights into television, anti-doping
The two-day Pan American Conference, co-hosted by The Jockey Club and the Latin American Racing Channel (LARC), concluded Friday afternoon at the Grand Hyatt Washington with presentations on a wide variety of topics by prominent individuals from inside and outside the Thoroughbred racing industry.
More than 400 participants from 25 countries attended the conference, and they will be attending Saturday’s 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, where they will watch Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming continue his quest for the Triple Crown.
The lineup of speakers on Friday included Bill Thomason, the president and chief executive officer of Keeneland Association; Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports; noted sports anti-doping attorney Professor Richard McLaren; Louis Romanet, chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities; and Dr. Larry Bowers, the chief science officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of The Stronach Group, delivered the keynote address to conclude the business portion of conference late Friday afternoon. She reminded delegates that they must work together to ensure the future of our sport.
“I am really optimistic about the future if we work together as industry on race-day mediation, Thoroughbred aftercare, and the range of issues we’ve discussed here. The future looks really prosing,” she said. “I am very committed to strengthening our sport and investing in racetracks and hope to really broaden the reach and modernize this great sporting legacy for the future.
Among the other highlights of Friday’s program:
Miller talked about NBC Sports’ growing menu of horse racing telecasts and the addition of several international events, such as Royal Ascot, the Dubai World Cup, and the Epsom Derby.
“This is an international sport and we’ve had great success with our international properties,” Miller said. “We know how to tell stories about the participants. We’re aiming to bring in casual viewers and to turn those casual viewers into fans of the sport.”
Miller cited the cross-promotional efforts of NBC with properties like the Today show and The Tonight Show as part of the reason for a recent 12 percent increase for the May 6 Kentucky Derby TV rating.
McLaren, in a presentation preceding a panel dedicated to integrity, urged attendees to “join forces as an international community to combat doping together” and learn more about robust anti-doping measures by sharing information.
“Harmonized, centralized, self-regulated regime and investigations are key for maintaining fairness in sport, he said. “But in horse racing, national oversight with outside regulation is the only approach since government has a stake in the system. You need a proper, single set of rules and uniform regulation.”
Romanet, chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, emphasized the importance of the worldwide harmonization of the anti-doping rules and out-of-competition testing.
“Horses should compete only when they are free of medication and drugs. For us there can be no other philosophy,” he said. “We must have out-of-competition testing because we have new major doping agents and without out-of-competition testing we will not find them.”
On Thursday, the opening day of the conference, attendees heard presentations featuring trainers, horseplayers and equine retirement advocates as well a Congressional update on current legislation aimed at medication reform in the horse racing industry.
In welcome remarks to the international audience, Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of The Jockey Club, encouraged American racing participants to “forge ahead to be more global” and said the main goals of the conference were to “learn about better policies, better practices and build stronger relationships.”
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), who co-sponsored and introduced the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, announced that he was “poised to reintroduce that legislation within the next couple of weeks.”
“The industry’s inability to implement uniform rules is the most persuasive argument for why we need federal legislation today,” he added.
The bill would lead to the creation of an entity overseen by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that would create a uniform, nationwide, conflict-free drug testing enforcement program for horse racing.
John Hartig, chairman and chief executive officer of Daily Racing Form, started off a panel about horseplayers by stating that “international racing will stimulate new interest and partially offset the contraction in U.S. racing.”
Di Arbuthnot of the UK-based Retraining of Racehorses retirement program, described the mission of the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses.
“It is the entire racing industry’s responsibility for the welfare of the Thoroughbred racehorse,” she said. “Racing needs to lead the way. There will be no racing if we fail on welfare and aftercare. We owe it to the horse to have a life after racing.”
Michael Blowen, a former film critic for the Boston Globe and founder of Old Friends retirement program, said:
“Horses have value. I consider retirement a legitimate career. This is their third career. These horses are priceless. Racing is based on competition on every level. Racing, breeding sales. When they come to our farm, that competition is over. They tell us how they want to be treated. I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to have the thrill of a lifetime every day.”
In a panel discussion focused on racetrack facility and design, Donald Dissinger of the prominent stadium architect firm EwingCole, which designed the Singapore Turf Club, talked about the social experience factor with sports fans.
“Social experience is regaining its traction in horse racing,” he said. “Today’s modern stadium celebrates the sports and other activities before and after the event. Millennials actively seek out environments that foster social collision.”
Dissinger also said that, “thoughtful building design directly influences the guest experience. Positive guest experiences encourage fan base expansion, customer loyalty and repeat visitation.”
Among the countries represented were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and the U.S.