Lenny Shulman, Features Editor of the Blood-Horse magazine, profiled racetrack owner Jeff Gural in an insightful December 5, 2015 article titled “A Czar is Born.” The narrative demonstrates what can be done by racetrack owners and managers, acting on their own, to reform horse racing for the better in the United States.
Mr. Gural, who has a successful background in business outside horse racing, owns two New York harness tracks—Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs—and operates the Meadowlands under a long-term lease from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
Mr. Gural’s thesis is that racetrack owners have the power and authority to take the actions needed to enhance the appeal of horse racing. In effect, the racetracks can serve as commissioners of the retail horse racing industry. According to the Blood-Horse article, two of his more controversial initiatives are as follows:
Medication. In order to race at any of Mr. Gural’s tracks, an applicant must sign an agreement to permit out-of-competition testing at any venue, such as a farm or training facility. A positive test gets the trainer barred from the three Gural racetracks. Moreover, Mr. Gural can and has banned trainers from his racetracks who he thinks may be drugging horses, even without hard evidence of a positive. His lawful right to exclude on private property was upheld in 2012 by a U. S. District Court judge.
In Mr. Gural’s view, Congress is not going to pass a law instituting federal oversight of drug testing in horse racing and that the racetracks need to take matters into their own hands.
Keeping the Stars Racing. Mr. Gural believes that horse racing’s affinity for retiring the sport’s star performers after their 3-year-old campaigns is antithetical to developing and maintaining a fan base. Acting on this belief, he has instituted a policy that offspring of racehorses sent to stud prior to racing through their 4-year-old season are not eligible to race at Mr. Gural’s tracks (medical exceptions are made). Were this rule to be installed by a Thoroughbred racetrack company, say Churchill Downs, Inc., the foals of American Pharoah would be ineligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
Regardless of how one feel’s about these two policies, what Mr. Gural has accomplished via edict illustrates that horse racing’s collective ritual protestation that not much can be achieved in the way of medication reform etc. absent a central authority is really just an excuse for doing nothing. If one or more major racetrack owners (Churchill Downs, Inc., the Stronach Group, and Penn National Gaming) took Mr. Gural’s no-nonsense approach to important need-to-do matters, horse racing would be on a road to renewal.
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