A year after American Pharoah, U.S. horse racing faces uneasy future

Sat May 7, 2016 7:25pm EDT
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By Ben Klayman

(Reuters) - A year after American Pharoah became the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown, U.S. thoroughbred racing officials have struggled to build on that excitement or agree on whether the sport needs a commissioner to rein in its disparate players.

Saturday's running of the 142nd Kentucky Derby, the most famous race in America and the first in the Triple Crown series of three races, puts horse racing at the center of attention for many sports fans, a place it only rarely occupies.

Some who see dark clouds for the industry advocate placing it under the control of a single person, at least as it comes to drug testing for the horses to crack down on cheating. Others question the need to horse around with a formula that has worked for decades in a $25 billion industry.

In a sport in which a star horse captures headlines like American Pharoah but then retires the next year to make the real money in breeding, arguments are playing out over whether a commissioner is needed, or perhaps a group of leaders.

"We are fiddling while Rome is burning," former Maryland Jockey Club Chief Executive Joe De Francis said last week at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in Washington

"It is the very nature of the regulatory framework, the pervasive regulation on a state-by-state basis, that prevents us from solving our own problems through a commissioner's office the way football can do or the way baseball can do," he added.

He voiced support for House legislation that would turn drug testing in the sport over to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the non governmental organization that handles drug testing for U.S. Olympians.

Many industry executives said the lack of a central authority in a sport with 38 racing jurisdictions and large race track owners like Churchill Downs (CHDN.O: Quote), which owns the Derby, may be holding the industry back.   Continued...

May 7, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; General view of roses and the twin spires before the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports - RTX2DA5H