HERSHEY, Pa.--The Horsemen's Protection and Benevolent Association of Penn National racetrack held a meeting on Monday, April 27 at which trainers were told that it was hoped that racing would resume June 1.
"We were told that the casinos are trying to open June 1, which would mean we could begin racing June 1, too," said trainer Bernie Houghton. "HPBA is paying to keep the track open so we can train five days a week. No trainers or agents are allowed. Only trainers and the workers who keep the horses at the track are allowed at the track. Jockeys are allowed in, too. I had a couple gallop a couple of my horses this week."
"When it opens all depends on the Governor," said Houghton. "Of the three tracks, we heard that Presque Isle will probably be the first. There haven't been any deaths up there. We'd be second to open at Penn National and Parx would be way last. But it's all speculation now."
"If we race, it would be without spectators, although if the casinos are open I don't know why they wouldn't allow spectators at the track," said Houghton. "Ship-ins would be allowed. We'd need ship-ins to have enough horses to race. Our purses would stay the same. HPBA has enough money to keep the purses the same. I heard through the grapevine that Parx purses would be cut in half."
MEANWHILE on Tuesday, April 28, there was a a teleconference meeting of the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission at which Hanover Shoe Farms president and CEO Russell Williams announced that Hanover Shoe will offer $250,000 in the form of a matching grant program to fund investigative services in racing.
This was in response to the federal indictments of over two dozen people in horse racing for drug adulteration and misbranding.
Those funds would ultimately be available not just for surveillance in Pennsylvania, but nationwide.
Williams' goal is to fund an agency similar to or including 5 Stones Intelligence, which according to The Jockey Club contributed intelligence work to the FBI investigation, eventually resulting in the indictments.
Williams, President of the U.S. Trotting Association, is the grandson of Hanover Shoe founder Lawrence Sheppard, who launched the Standardbred operation in Hanover, Penn., when he was a junior partner in the Hanover Shoe Company.
The farm is one of the sport's largest commercial breeders.
“Here at Hanover Shoe farm, we sell about 230 yearlings, or that's what we're going to sell this year,” said Williams in the Paulick Report. “We try to raise them right and love them and take good care of them. To send them out into the world to be subjected to the things described in those indictments … it breaks our hearts.
“We're going to show them we're not going to say goodbye to them when they leave here. We're going to put this challenge grant down and make some things happen.”
“The state racing commissions are chronically underfunded,” Williams said in the Paulick Report. “They're left to do their jobs in a less than ideal legislative and regulatory environment, and the tradition among horse people has been not to police themselves. So what would be the number one thing that would help? It's got to be good investigation.
“Even if there was a federal authority, they're not going to know who to go after without good investigation. If you read the Horseracing Integrity Act, they don't have the power to activate the FBI.”
Williams said he hopes that funding will ultimately come from the Thoroughbred side of the racing industry as well.
“If all the racing breeds got together on this it would just be awesome,” he said.
Williams said the project is still in its initial planning stages, but the $250,000 matching figure would likely run for a year, with additional grants possible in future years.
“We're working right now on the design of the business model,” said Williams. “We have to find a structure that will protect the administration of the money from allegations of conflict-of-interest. It looks like there must be some sort of third-party oversight. Also, there will be no pulling punches: what the investigations find must be dealt with correctly and intensively in every case. So that's the hold-up.”
Initial reception to Williams' announcement on the commission teleconference Tuesday was positive.