National HBPA Convention: Finding Ways To Do Things Better

Finding ways for horse racing to do things better is the overarching theme of the National HBPA Convention March 12-16 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, Fla.

That also is the mission of the new Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, a horse-racing think tank whose representatives form the March 13 keynote panel at the annual convention staged by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association and its affiliates in the United States and Canada. Launched last May, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation already has issued a trio of white papers on horse racing and legal sports betting, when interference should result in a disqualification and rounding down to the penny in mutuel payoffs.

The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation’s stated goal is “to improve the thoroughbred racing industry for all stakeholders, especially its primary customers – gamblers and owners – through the exchange, curation and advocacy of sound, data-driven ideas, shared with and implemented by the sport’s existing entities.” TIF is funded by individuals and accepts no money from industry organizations.

Panelists are Glen Hill Farm president and think-tank founder Craig Bernick, along with TIF board members Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing and horse owner-breeder Corey Johnsen of Arizona Downs and Kentucky Downs. Moderating the panel will be Justin Nicholson, a TIF board member and co-founder of Equestricon.

“I continue to try to keep the keynote address about the positiveness and what’s working in the industry,” Hamelback said. “I certainly see this panel as that. This group and their board as a whole are very bright individuals who are all vested in the industry. They have a passion to make this industry as successful as possible, not just sit by and be status quo.

“We’re in a time where our industry is poised for growth if people will take heed of the changes that we should and could make…. These are people who want this industry not only to survive but to thrive.”

Other panels and presentations include:

  • “Putting the ‘We’ in Equine Welfare” kicks off the March 13 programming by exploring what animal welfare really means, who decides what is and isn’t good welfare and why the industry must get involved in the debate. The session will be presented by Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, the New York Racing Association’s chief examining veterinarian, an accredited steward, industry consultant and attorney.

“It makes you think about what some of these activists see and things we can do to make it better,” said Hamelback, who has seen Durenberger’s presentation. “It’s dependent on how we treat our equine athlete as to how our industry moves forward, as much as growing owners and handicappers.”

  • “Accessing Our Industry’s Stats Into The Future” will discuss owners asserting their rights to statistical data collected on their horses’ performances, including gaining input on how it is used. The panel comes as Equibase is testing GPS systems to collect race and workout data of horses.
  • Michele Fischer, president of the Darting Star consulting company whose expertise includes wagering systems around the world, will make a presentation about the future of fixed-odds betting at American racetracks, including the positive impact it has had in Australian racing.
  • John Marshall, senior vice president and general manager of Virginia’s revived Colonial Downs, is the guest speaker at the awards luncheon. Among those to be recognized is 2018 Claimer of the Year Persie, the Penn National-based winner of 10 of 17 starts in claiming and starter-allowance races for owner Bush Racing and trainer Lester Stickler.
  • Dr. Steve Vickner, an economist and associate professor in the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program in the College of Business and specialist in data analytics, will present factors affecting handle in thoroughbred and standardbred races based on extensive research at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack as part of the convention’s March 14 programming.

“That’s the kind of thing we need to know if we’re going to have pertinent industry discussions on how to change things, and what we’re doing already that is a win so we don’t have to focus on that part,” Hamelback said.

  • The public portion of the convention concludes the morning of March 15 with the annual Kent Stirling Memorial Scientific Panel, which will continue to delve into one of the most important topics facing horsemen: the dangers of environmental contamination and inadvertent transfer of impermissible substances to horses. This session focuses on naturally occurring substances in feed, forage and bedding and how horsemen can protect themselves.

“We have to be cognizant what’s in the barn,” Hamelback said.

The Tampa Bay Downs HBPA is the host affiliate, including sponsoring an afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs on March 15.

View the complete agenda, speakers and panelists here.

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Panel Discusses Sexual Harassment at Tracks

Panel said backstretch workers need to know where to turn.

Members of a panel discussing sexual harassment issues at the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association convention March 16 in New Orleans said potential places for workers to turn include backstretch chaplains, horsemen’s groups, backstretch health workers, and stewards.

Loretta Brennan, executive director of the Arkansas HBPA, applauded the move by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to place forms in its office that allow workers to fill out a complaint about sexual harassment. Brennan acknowledged that not every worker may feel comfortable filling out such a form, but noted that it’s important to have options and make workers aware of those options so they don’t feel isolated.

Jennifer Johnson, vice president of Mountaineer HBPA who grew up on the backstretch, said workers need to have the ability to seek help and know where to turn.

“They do have to seek some help to make sure that behavior doesn’t continue,” Johnson said, noting that victims need to understand that they didn’t do anything wrong, and by speaking up they can stop this behavior. “They have to understand they have rights.”

The panel said sexual harassment can occur on the front side as well, and those workers should address the human resources department. They noted that where a worker can turn is not as well defined on the backstretch, and language barriers as well as the enclosed environment can potentially lead to feelings of isolation.

Brennan said that like every work environment, sexual harassment occurs on the backstretch. Some of those workers, who may not feel  they are in a position of power, have shared their stories with Brennan.

“It definitely happens. I have had young women come to me in need and seek advice. I always reach out to my chaplain. I advise them that they can seek legal avenues. If it’s serious enough, they can hire a lawyer, but that hasn’t happened,” Brennan said. “My chaplain goes and talks with them, and gets pretty stern with them. I don’t think it’s happened again once I’ve had that conversation.”

Panel moderator Lynne Schuller recalled a personal incident where a horseman client she was representing at a hearing before the stewards said something highly offensive to her.

“I was going into a stewards meeting on a horseman, and he said something to me so shocking that I won’t repeat it,” Schuller said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘You idiot, you’re going to say that to me right before a meeting. What would you say to an employee you hired mucking a stall?'”

Schuller said she informed the stewards of what was said, and they took some level of action against the horseman. She said it was never a problem again. But she said women working on the backstretch may not feel like they are in a position to say something. She said there have to be ways to communicate, and any victim has to feel comfortable in telling her story.

Richard Riedel, executive director of the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund, said horsemen and backstretch groups should start activities and events that are popular with women like yoga classes and self defense. He said as members become comfortable in that atmosphere, advocates can present on topics like sexual harassment and inform them of their options.

Dan Waits, executive director of Race Track Chaplaincy of America, said part of chaplaincy training now includes training on sexual harassment.

“While the horse racing environment is unique, this problem goes on in any environment. As employers and supervisors, we need to provide a safe environment. Some of this is not just about sexual advances, some is about control,” Waits said. “People want to work in a safe environment where they are respected. It’s that simple.”

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