View From The Eighth Pole: Real Or Perceived, Conflicts Of Interest A Problem For KHRC - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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View From The Eighth Pole: Real Or Perceived, Conflicts Of Interest A Problem For KHRC

Jonathan Rabinowitz, chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

Remember the time Travis Tygart, as head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, came up to Lance Armstrong and gave him a big hug after one of Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories?

Yeah, me neither.

I've been told horse racing is different, that it's unique. We are expected to accept things that probably wouldn't fly in other sports or industries.

So I guess it's perfectly OK for Jonathan Rabinowitz, an attorney who chairs the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, to hug Bob Baffert near the Churchill Downs infield winner's circle after Baffert-trained Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

It's also fine that another KHRC member, Charlie O'Connor, director of sales for Coolmore America, gave Baffert a congratulatory hug. After all, Coolmore and Baffert have done a lot of business together, whether it's at Thoroughbred auctions or on the racetrack, where Baffert has trained a number of horses for the Ireland-based global Thoroughbred powerhouse.

The Baffert stable also has served as a pipeline for stallion prospects, with no fewer than five current residents at Coolmore's Ashford Stud having been trained by Baffert. I would be shocked if some of the top prospects currently in Baffert's barn, starting with 2021 2-year-old male champion Corniche, weren't being recruited for eventual stud duty at Ashford. Participation in Triple Crown races this spring, when Baffert is scheduled to be on suspension, could further enhance the resumes of some of those prospects. But he'll need a stay of his suspension.

Rabinowitz and O'Connor have done business together, too. They partnered to open the Amsden Bourbon Bar in Midway, Ky., and Rabinowitz or his For the People Racing LLC have been partners in horses with Coolmore principals or their family members.

Now that those post-Derby congratulations and celebrations have ended following a stewards' disqualification of Medina Spirit and a 90-day suspension of Baffert over a failed post-race drug test, Rabinowitz, O'Connor and other KHRC board members are faced with some challenging questions.

Will the KHRC overturn its own executive director's decision to reject a request by Baffert for a stay of the suspension, which was to go into effect on March 8? A special commission meeting will be conducted on Friday to address that question.

If an appeal of the disqualification and suspension is eventually heard by an administrative law judge, will Rabinowitz, O'Connor and other KHRC members accept, reject or modify whatever that independent arbiter recommends?

And will Rabinowitz, O'Connor and other KHRC members who have done business with Baffert be able to put aside any relationships or potential conflicts of interest while they cast votes on these matters?

Seriously, can you imagine if Travis Tygart had been an investor in Lance Armstrong's cycling team and then was charged with investigating whether they won by cheating?

But that's the way it is – for now at least – in horse racing. Regulators are often investors in the game they are regulating. They might be pure as the driven snow when making decisions, but even the appearance of conflicts of interest can turn that snow into slush in the eyes of the public.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority is designed to eliminate conflicts of interest by installing five independent, non-horse racing board members to go along with four industry representatives who do not currently have any stake in the business. As far as I'm concerned, the launch of HISA oversight of our sport cannot come soon enough.

That's my view from the eighth pole.

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