I read your 22 May edition with interest, and in particular, the commentary offered in regards dog racing and horse racing in the column titled “What happens when activists get a foot in the door,” writes PATRICK CUMMINGS.

From the Turf Talk article  (TT Newsletter, 22 May):

Believe us when we tell you horse racing is next on the agenda of activists all over the world. They won the first battle with the unnecessary whip rules now being instituted around the globe and their next steps are in progress. They work tirelessly and systematically and they have a plan to which the end goal is simply to stop horse racing forever.

As one of your regular American readers, and leading an organization this is aiming to transform the American racing industry through sensible reforms long -ignored, I thought it would be helpful to offer some insight to this situation.

Greyhound racing in America will be a shell of its former self once the constitutional amendment from November 2018, passed with more than 69% of all Florida voters – some 5.4 million residents of the state – takes effect at the end of 2020. While there is little argument that various advocacy groups were strongly in support of this amendment, the rather holistic origin of the measure is striking and scary – not just to those who were deeply involved in that sport, but those who share the same role in horse racing.

Remember, in America, individual states own control of many issues that really impact day to day life. Road works, education, petrol taxes and yes, horse racing, are all the purview of individual state jurisdictions. For example, a driver in South Dakota can obtain an unrestricted driver’s license at the age of 16, but it’s 18 in Connecticut. Individual states laws (and some would say, rights) matter. One item legal in one could be illegal just a few miles down the road in another state.

And so it goes with greyhound racing.

In 1968, Florida’s state legislature created the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), empowering it to meet every 20 years and identify issues that they believe Floridians would want changed via the state constitution. It has 37 members, assigned by various elements of the state government designed to ensure a diverse, bi-partisan group of commissioners.

According to the Associated Industries of Florida, a business association in the state:

“The CRC has unique authority that can and has made a major impact on the laws in this state…The usual legislative process has layers of checks and balances for proposals to become state law with multiple committees holding hearings in both the House and Senate, an amendment process and vote by each chamber, followed by the final hurdle of approval or veto by the Governor… Once the CRC goes through its process, its proposals are put directly on the general election ballot for a vote by the public.”

And so, after one year of scouring the state engaging the public on issues that they might want changed in the state, a series of amendments were offered for approval. One of those that made it to the ballot – “Ending Dog Racing.” After obtaining a 27-10 vote to move the measure to the ballot for public consideration in the November election, it easily beat the 60% voter adoption threshold required to become law.

The language used in the amendment is scarily simple, and broad.

“The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. After December 31, 2020, a person authorized to conduct gaming or pari-mutuel operations may not race greyhounds…”

That’s quite the opening sentence, and horse racing stakeholders should be taking notice. Change one word and it could easily be thoroughbreds the next time the CRC meets and suggests amendments, in 2038.

Of great concern is that there is almost an assumption that greyhounds (or feel free to insert thoroughbreds) are not treated humanely. Whether we want to accept it or not, the meaning of the word “humane” has changed. What one person may have identified as “humane” in 1950 and 1970 might be different than in 1990, 2000 or today.

Social media is flooded with videos of domesticated animals acting like humans. Dogs changing the channel via a remote control. Cats surprising themselves in the mirror the way you might if you unknowingly turned the corner in a store and found one on the wall.

The “social license” we have to continue operating racing is changing in a world where our relationship with animals has changed. But have racing’s human overseers changed with it? In some ways, maybe, in others, maybe not.

There are far more people disengaged from interactions with horses to think that racing can continue in its current form – no matter how much we may have thought that we, who are well-engaged, have evolved. We have not done enough to normalize racing to modern standards. Our status as a niche sport will be our downfall unless we make serious changes. The connection between the average person and the horse is not what it once was.

South Africa’s test of races without whips are one good example of a trial balloon down this path.

Surely, activists will use their 2018 campaign against greyhound racing to come after horse racing. It would be insanity to think they won’t try.

According to Ballotpedia, a non-profit which tracks individual state ballot measures and results, the campaign finance reporting standards required by Florida showed that two committees founded to support the “End Dog Racing” amendment contributed more US$3.8 million towards the cause. Opponents contributed just US$142,000. A summary of the editorial support in opposition of the measure suggest it was worth opposing because it was believed the legislature in the state was the best place to handle this business and not the CRC.

That’s right, the main opposition to the “Ending Dog Racing” campaign was merely procedural.

In other words, the greyhound racing industry in Florida never really had a chance. The opposition to the sport was incredibly well-funded and realistically, the industry did not put up much of a fight.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning, the tracks which operated greyhound racing are permitted to retain their casino licenses.

Horse racing must stay on the front foot. We must lead the change ourselves before others do it for us. It must be meaningful and modern.

Those who fight change from within only strengthen the case made by those from beyond.

-Pat Cummings is the Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation.
To learn more, visit RacingThinkTank.com.

Pic: Getty Images.

 

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