Oklahoma Commission Adopts Category 1 Interference Philosophy

The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (OHRC) became the first in North America to pass a rule which emulates the globally-recognized Category 1 interference philosophy after agreeing to amend its rules at its meeting on Thursday, February 17 in Oklahoma City.

“This is a tremendous first step for North American racing jurisdictions to begin the process of harmonizing rules governing interference and improving the overall experience for racing’s primary customers – the bettors,” said Patrick Cummings, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation.

“What we have in North America is a patchwork quilt of various rules which often place total equity above consistency and logic in determining which infractions warrant a demotion. It is always toughest to be the first, so I commend the OHRC for taking that step and I anticipate several others will follow in the near future.”

The amended rule changes the consideration of stewards when determining interference. The exact wording of the amended rule is below:

“If the Stewards determine a Horse or its rider has caused an interference and finished in front of the Horse it interfered with, and if not for the interference the Horse would have finished behind the horse it interfered with, the interfering Horse shall be placed immediately behind the Horse with which it interfered. If the interference is a result of dangerous riding, the Stewards shall place the interfering horse in last place.”

Should interference be the result of dangerous riding, the OHRC’s rule empowers stewards to demote the interfering horse to last, regardless of where the sufferer of the interference finished. This addition to the rule, within the scope of the international Category 1 philosophy, was adopted to discourage jockeys from employing a “win-at-any-cost” approach.

“Dangerous riding’ means a rider causes a serious infraction by: (A) purposely interference with another horse or rider; or (B) riding in a way which is far below that of a competent and careful rider and where it would be obvious to a competent and careful rider that riding in that way would likely endanger the safety of another horse or rider.”

The rule amendment was proposed in November 2021 and after a public comment period, was passed unanimously by the Commission’s Rules Committee. Racing in the state occurs across three tracks – Fair Meadows, Remington Park and Will Rogers Downs.

Under the state’s procedure, amended rules are usually implemented in September after review by the legislature and signature by the Governor.

The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation has advocated for North American jurisdictions to consider shifting to the Category 1 philosophy since publication of its November 2018 white paper “Changing The Rules.”

“In some states a relatively harmless bump a mile from the finish could lead to the demotion of a 15-length winner because the Stewards believed a horse that finished ninth could have been eighth. Racing’s betting customers and owners have suffered from the injustices imposed by such rules and the inconsistent application of them for years,” said Cummings.

“Oklahoma is leading the way towards a better future for racing participants and customers by becoming the first jurisdiction to adopt a rule that embraces the Category 1 philosophy. We fully expect their lead will be followed by others in the months and years to come.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), regulators of racing in the Canadian province, conducted a stakeholder consultation period on adopting Category 1 rules in early 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to any action and it has yet to be revisited.

Thoroughbred Idea Foundation: Seeking Transparency

All photos courtesy Alex Evers


While the North American racing industry continues to face a raft of serious issues, there should be little denying the need to present a sport that promotes far greater transparency than it does currently.

Some jurisdictions have a head start over others, but all are in need of massive improvement. A more seriously arranged adjudication arm for racing could build confidence in racing stakeholders, particularly owners and bettors, the lifeblood of the sport.

The case for North America to shift from its existing patchwork-quilt of in-race interference rules, based around the Category 2 interference philosophy, to a more consistent standard based under the Category 1 philosophy was espoused in Saratoga Springs last week at a series of industry meetings.

Mr Kim Kelly, Chief Stipendiary Steward of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Chairman of the International Harmonization of Racing Rules Committee (IHRRC), made the case on behalf of the racing world at the Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing, furthering the call made by the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation in our late 2018 white paper “Changing The Rules.” (CLICK TO READ)

According to the model rule adopted by the vast majority of jurisdictions under the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, the Category 1 philosophy could be summarized as follows – if it cannot be reasonably believed that the horse which suffered interference would have finished in front of the interfering horse if not for the interference, then no change should be made.

The exact language of the model rule states:

“If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge’s placings will remain unaltered.

“If, in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with and if not for the incident(s) the sufferer would have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the interferer will be placed immediately behind the sufferer.”

Racing Authorities may, within their Rules, provide for the disqualification of a horse from a race in circumstances in which the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body deems that the rider has ridden in a dangerous manner.”

Adopting Category 1 across North America would yield a sport with a greater understanding of how a race is adjudicated, far fewer instances in which the stewards are called upon to review a race for a potential change, fewer demotions, should be accompanied by an enhanced penalty structure for jockeys guilty of careless riding, and delivers increased confidence for all stakeholders in the adjudication of the race.

At last Friday’s IHRRC meeting in Saratoga, officials from France, Germany and Japan, all jurisdictions to switch from Category 2 to Category 1 in recent years, cited absolutely no regrets in the decision, and re-iterated that they could not imagine returning to the highly flawed Category 2 system.

Regardless of the rules philosophy in place, stewards should be the guardians of transparency for the sport.

Kelly spoke of that need for stewards to lead the cause of transparency as paramount for customer confidence.

“Racing stewards must never be afraid of explaining their decisions to the public or any member of the industry. So long as decisions are properly considered with all of the relevant factors and competing arguments being taken into account and the correct decision arrived at, then those decisions will always be able to be supported in any forum. Transparency is king. Confidence in the stewards is paramount. Confidence lost, everything lost.

The transparent adjudication of racing in North America is a necessity. It does not exist today.

This paper seeks to update the situation of stewarding in North America through the lens of recent events – the Kentucky Derby and the Haskell Invitational.

The 2019 Kentucky Derby

Let there be no mistake.

The decision of the stewards to demote Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby was justified given the rules of racing (below) in Kentucky.

“If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. If a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is a foul. If, in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, the offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”

Almost without fail, the stewards must exercise some degree of judgment – it is folly to believe there are always clear cut decisions where racing stakeholders would agree in every circumstance. Some element of subjective judgment enters into the equation before these decisions, again, whether a jurisdiction is using Category 1 or Category 2.

As it relates to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the following steps are achievable in the mind of a steward.

– Maximum Security swerved and impeded other horses. This is a foul.

– It is believable that the horses impacted by the foul would have finished in some different positions – specifically Long Range Toddy – and thus this foul altered the finish of the race.

– Thus, a demotion of Maximum Security is warranted.

Evers - Prat S.JPG

That is simple.

It might not be fair in the minds of those that wagered on a horse that was nearly two lengths clear as a winner of the Kentucky Derby or to the winning owners or breeders of the race. Proponents of the Category 1 philosophy could think the decision was unjust.

But it is simple to at least visualize how such a decision could be achieved given the rules as written, and the long-applied Category 2 rules philosophy in place.

What this does not address, however, is the subsequently uncovered, revealed or apparent elements of the review of the Derby itself which exposed the state of stewarding in North America today. The process involved in the demotion of Maximum Security is symptomatic of a long-ignored problem in North American racing.

The big-picture blame does not reside with the current stewards or regulators, though there were some clear mistakes. These simple and understandable mistakes and oversights, some surely a function of the heat of the moment, are the product of years of neglect in modernizing a system for adjudicating racing, and communicating decisions with regularity to racing stakeholders – something which has become standard operating procedure for the rest of the racing world.

If it can happen in the continent’s premier race, there is every reason to believe these could have occurred with any similar set of stewards adjudicating any North American race.


Read more

TIF: Is North American racing ready to modernize the rules to a more consistent standard?


The stewards correctly applied the rules, as written in Kentucky, when demoting Maximum Security in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
But would a different set of stewards, perhaps in a different state and with different wording within those rules, have made the same decision? Is it not slightly maddening to think that the rules of racing across North America are different from state to state or province to province?
Imagine if pass interference rules in football or traveling violations in basketball varied depending on the location of the stadium or arena where the game was played. What was pass interference in New Orleans might not be pass interference in Los Angeles.
That is the situation North American racing is faced with, not just when it comes to adjudicating the Kentucky Derby, but every race, every day. Stakeholders do not know what to expect given the variance of the rules.
While North America applies what is known as Category 2 rules – if a horse suffers interference, the interfering horse is placed behind the sufferer of the interference – an alternative is available.
The Category 1 rules philosophy offers a more consistent experience for all involved in racing, while maintaining safety for all participants through an enhanced penalty structure for offending jockeys.
The TIF released “Changing The Rules” in November, and we invite you to revisit the paper, particularly in light of the attention on rules administration following the Derby.
While the full version of this white paper is quite lengthy (at more than 7,000 words), we believe it offers a comprehensive review of a complex situation. Please take the time to read.
“The Kentucky stewards applied the rules of the state appropriately, there should be no question regarding that,” says Thoroughbred Idea Foundation Executive Director Pat Cummings. “However, the Category 1 rules philosophy presents a better alternative, not because they are accepted in every other global jurisdiction, but because they are much easier to understand for all involved and present a more consistent experience to our customers.
“It is a preferable alternative to our current system and implements a proper system of deterrents through an enhanced penalty structure designed to maintain safety of all participants.”

Thoroughbred Idea Foundation: Calling for a Racing Industry Compromise

The sport which brings us together is at a turning point. We have been divided for far too long on a variety of issues that impact our business. Most notably, the “Lasix debate” has been a debilitating one, inhibiting our collective ability to move ahead. The time has come for the industry to compromise – working together with all major constituencies to establish a mutually-agreed, new way forward.

The recent announcement from a coalition of racetracks to introduce changes to their house Lasix policies was met with a series of statements from certain stakeholder groups restating their long-held positions. Compromise is essential. Absent a compromise, binding mediation should be considered.

In my many years in this great sport, I have never seen racing more at risk than it is right now,” says B. Wayne Hughes, owner of Spendthrift Farm. “We have far too much at stake to continue being tied down in separate bunkers and not finding a way forward. The time for a compromise is now.

As major stakeholders, we believe the only way to grow revenue for the industry’s obligations – among them, aftercare and backstretch programs, equine research, jockey insurance and prize money – is through the growth of the sport’s overall “pie.” If our industry can collectively agree to compromise, we can finally move ahead together and address other meaningful issues that have inhibited growth in the sport for far too long.

While racing has some long-standing traditions which have shaped our collective experience, nothing is set in stone. Let’s embrace that freedom to redefine the future.

Our sport has recently been challenged in a manner that requires bold, serious and innovative action. But the longer-term reality should not be ignored, either. Foal crops are at 50-year lows. Handle is down close to 50%, adjusted for inflation, over just 15 years. Though tougher to measure, the social license racing enjoys is also questioned now more than at any point in recorded history. We must adapt to this, better exhibiting to the world – not just ourselves – the outstanding care our horses receive, and their majestic, innate desire to compete.

We must unite and emerge stronger – for the horses, for our passion, for the future.

Since our organization’s launch last summer, we’ve presented four substantive white papers tackling topics related to improving our sport’s approach to pricing, transparency, product development and access to information. Now is the time to present a fresh approach to racing. We have enlisted five industry leaders to present their take on improving different segments of racing through new approaches to long-stagnant “offices.” Their ideas will be released over the next two days.

Wagering and Innovation: Marshall Gramm (chair of Rhodes College economics department, co-founder of Ten Strike Racing)

Racing Administration and Planning: Rick Hammerle (long-time racing official, including 20 years at Santa Anita as racing secretary and vice president of racing).

Integrity and Welfare: Maggi Moss (attorney, major horse owner, leading aftercare advocate)

Communications and Marketing: John Sikura (president of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm)

Owners’ Services and Recruitment: Brad Weisbord (founder of BSW Bloodstock, ELiTE Sales)

Presented with an opportunity to re-shape our industry and mindful of our precarious position, these suggestions should be met with open minds. Our interest in a healthy thoroughbred industry is shared. The process to achieve these much-needed improvements remains rooted in compromise, with all stakeholders understanding that once-entrenched opinions must be loosened in order to establish a modern sport.

In the recently-published words of billionaire investor and philanthropist Ray Dalio, “collective decision making works much better than fragmented individual decision making so I urge you to understand it and employ it. If you don’t, you will be left behind.” Our future, as projected by five industry leaders, could be so much brighter than our past if we can collectively move beyond that which has divided us for so long and work together. Join us in this quest!

Thoroughbred Idea Foundation Calls for Affordable Data

Group said free, or reduced-price data would spur interest in ownership, wagering.


An industry group focused on improving horse racing, especially for gamblers and owners, is calling on the industry’s data collector, Equibase, to share more information for free or at greatly reduced prices. In a White Paper issued March 11, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation said Equibase should consider the collection and distribution of racing data as a marketing expense and distribute it for free, or as open as possible. The White Paper argues that this approach would attract and retain gamblers while empowering owners to make more educated decisions.

TIF board member Tom Reynolds, an active handicapping tournament player who has become a horse owner through Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners after spending more than three decades as a sales and marketing executive for Pepsi-Cola North America, believes such an approach to racing’s data would help increase interest in ownership and wagering.

Read BloodHorse Article Here

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.