Rift Between Horse Racing Commissioners And Governor Flares Once more

Amid speak of a record-breaking day of deal with from the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx racetrack, renewed tensions between Pennsylvania Horse Racing Fee members and Gov. Tom Wolf have been highlighted Tuesday.

Monitor officers reported at a month-to-month fee assembly that Saturday’s large stakes race at Parx helped entice $13.8 million for the 13-race card, a 30% enhance over the earlier Pennsylvania Derby day excessive in 2014.

An estimated 10,000-plus race followers have been in attendance and noticed Scorching Rod Charlie’s win upheld in opposition to Midnight Bourbon regardless of a foul protest in opposition to the speedy thoroughbred, very similar to the one which resulted in Scorching Rod Charlie’s short-lived win in Monmouth Park’s Haskell Stakes being overturned in July.

Saturday’s occasion at Parx was one indication of a robust return to racing this yr on the state’s six tracks after a COVID-impacted 2020 that compelled quite a few cancellations of race days and large occasions, together with the Pennsylvania Derby. The fee authorised including on six extra stay race dates at Penn Nationwide in October and December and eight extra dates by means of October at Presque Isle Downs, making up for a delayed begin to the season.

However a lot of the speak amongst commissioners and fee officers turned to the subject of racehorse fatalities — notably in relation to Parx — and what’s being carried out about them, with some withering criticism of the governor and his communications employees concerned.

Commissioners ‘offended’ by governor

Regardless that 5 appointees to the nine-member fee come from the governor, most of whom have to be chosen from lists of candidates equipped by organizations representing horse homeowners and breeders, it has criticized Wolf in two consecutive years for his failed makes an attempt to shift some $200 million in annual slot machine subsidies from the race trade to varsity scholarships. Commissioners additionally felt Wolf took too lengthy final yr to permit tracks to reopen in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, after neighboring states resumed racing.

Now commissioners really feel the trade received an pointless slap from Wolf over the problem of racehorse fatalities, once they preserve they’re making unprecedented efforts to handle such deaths.

Their ire arose due to the next assertion supplied by the state Division of Agriculture’s press workplace to the Philadelphia Inquirer for a Sept. 1 article: “The billions of {dollars} offered to the horse racing trade haven’t lowered the variety of horse deaths at tracks.”

That Inquirer article, utilizing info from the division, which oversees the Horse Racing Fee with Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding as its chairman, reported there had been 31 deaths amongst horses at Parx within the first half of 2021. That quantity put it on a tempo properly above COVID-affected 2020 and barely above 2019, although properly beneath a excessive of 85 seen again in 2014.

“I used to be personally offended, and I’m positive different commissioners have been offended who’ve put in a lot time to make racing safer, by the assertion of the governor’s workplace,” mentioned Commissioner Tom Ellis, whose feedback have been echoed by different members.

Ellis is a part of a working group of commissioners, horsemen, observe officers, and veterinarians that has been learning the problem of fatalities and the right way to scale back them, with their report anticipated throughout the subsequent two months, in line with fee employees.

The assertion to the Inquirer by Agriculture Division Press Secretary Shannon Powers famous the efforts of that working group, together with different reforms lately that embody elevated testing, enforcement of remedy violations, and obligatory necropsies after each horse fatality. An inspection by fee employees at Parx in Might resulted in confiscation of great contraband associated to potential doping of horses.

“The PA State Horse Racing Fee is working diligently to encourage all concerned within the trade to look at potential causes of fatalities with diligence and open minds, and with integrity and animal welfare because the utmost precedence,” Powers advised the Inquirer as a part of the total assertion. She declined Tuesday to answer Ellis’ public criticism of the broader assertion to the newspaper.

The commissioners noticed the allusion to how “billions of {dollars}” of subsidies haven’t helped as an pointless kick, with Ellis noting the unique on line casino legislation earmarked a share of income from slot machines as important to sustaining the race trade, defending its jobs, and sustaining open area within the commonwealth within the face of latest on line casino competitors.

Ellis, a tax and finance lawyer from Montgomery County by career, expressed resentment for the Inquirer’s protection in addition to the governor’s positions. The newspaper did a deeper examination into horse fatalities, centered on Parx, in a March report.

“This fee believes the dying of even one horse is simply too many,” Ellis insisted Tuesday.


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