Interesting ideas at International Federation of Horseracing Authorities meeting
Europe seems to want to pretend betting does not exist, but at least moves are being made against the attitudeto drugs in America
The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) made a bold step into the new digital age on Monday, with the conference which annually follows the running of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe being streamed online.
The conference has long held considerable significance as a get-together of some of the world's main administrators, from both sides of the Atlantic and from Asia: an occasion for decision-making and lobbying as well as the floating of new ideas and trends.
While the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) conference in Hong Kong in early May will carry more fanfare and more delegates, the IFHA conference is an important one as far as the general direction of racing.
There were a couple of significant ideas mentioned, although they had more to do with that breeding and selling side of the game that often seems the only commercial pursuit of European racing.
What the webcast highlighted was the low ranking that betting holds in official considerations of racing and how it should proceed, right at the very top of the business.
Most of the speakers tiptoed around the subject altogether, with vague references to customers and crowds and fans but scant attention paid to the activity that usually characterises most of the interaction between horse racing and those groups.
In many places in the world it seems the core business of racing embarrasses and gags even those charged with its navigation.
That is unless we have it wrong and the racing organisations of Europe or the US are doing a roaring trade in food and beverage, paying the bills that way and without recourse to anything as tacky as gambling. Or is there some subsidy coming from the breeding industry to put on the show? We thought not.
There were exceptions but it mostly had a comical side: watching the discomfort creep up on some speakers as they edged towards betting, and then seeing the colour return to their faces as they steered away, Titanics that missed the iceberg.
Beneath the water though, there were sharks swimming towards the United States and its drug-tolerant rules.
A few years ago at the ARF conference in Tokyo, Hong Kong Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges had his IFHA vice-chairman hat on when he mentioned the possibility that group racing classifications might unite the world on this subject.
There are odd spots of hypocrisy in drug rules outside of America, but by and large it is becoming marooned on its own viewpoint. As the rest of the world steadily moves to a less tolerant, even intolerant, position on drugs in racing, the US has only talked a fair game and done little of real worth.
So the idea voiced during the webcast of the IFHA meeting, if not in as many words, was a significant one: that the leverage of bloodstock sales could be used to hit recalcitrant jurisdictions where it hurts - in the breeders.
Cleverly hidden in consideration of introducing "super Group One" status for races which routinely are of a higher standard than your run-of-the-mill Group Ones - and that they should be denoted that way to get their full benefit in sale catalogues - was the flipside argument. That being the notion that indulgent drug rules are damaging to the thoroughbred breed over time, as infirm horses with good performances are then bred with, producing more faulty horses.
And that races run under particular rules which allowed certain medications, eg in the United States, should also carry a notation in sales catalogues, an asterisk if you like, to make it clear the results could be taken with a pinch of salt.
That delineation of drug-assisted black type would hurt some people of considerable influence in racing in the States - big commercial breeders - and take the drugs argument out of the hands of vets, who have every financial interest in things continuing as they are and have been busy running scare campaigns to keep the steering wheel on the same path.