USTA Update – 2019 Annual Meeting

2019 Annual USTA Meeting
March 8 – 11, 2019
Columbus, Ohio
by Marilyn Breuer-Bertera, District 2 Chairman

You have probably been reading articles and viewing videos from the annual meeting on the USTA website over the past week.  When I return from the meeting, I usually try to fill in a little information from the meeting that might not have made the headlines.

A new program that I am involved in is the Youth Delegate Leadership initiative.  Applications were accepted following the 2018 annual meeting, and there are currently nine youth delegates from all over the country.  During the past year, we had several conference calls, the delegates were involved with social media promotion, and assisted with major racing events.  However, this was the first time we all met in person.  They are an enthusiastic group who developed a great mission statement—“Harnessing youthful vision; creating a vibrant future!”  They made several connections with USTA directors and other industry leaders, and look forward to a productive year.  The 2019 application process will begin soon.  There is an opening in our District 2 (Michigan and Indiana); so watch the website for updates.

You have probably heard about the Trackmaster Rating system, whereby each racehorse is assigned a numerical rating—based on past performance, track variables, and other factors–for purposes of classification.  One of the intents is more equal classification to eliminate heavy betting favorites, and thereby increase handle.  It was used last summer by four U.S. tracks.  Hoosier used it on a limited basis, so if you raced there, you might be familiar with it.  Over the past few months, the USTA has developed a programming tool which assigns each racehorse a rating in E-track, the system used for entries.  You will see the number for each horse when you use online entry.  These computer-generated ratings will provide all tracks an opportunity to utilize the Trackmaster system if they so choose.

There were a total of 26 rule change proposals and 2 By-Law changes that were voted on during committee meetings and, finally, by the full board.  A complete list may be viewed on the website.

The USTA was very involved in lobbying against 2018 federal legislation which would have created standardized medication rules for all racing breeds and eliminated race-day Lasix.  The bill has been reintroduced this year as HR1754, which will again require USTA attention.  The USTA also initiated the formation of the Harness Racing Medication Collaborative. A group of industry veterinarians and other professionals working to develop medication guidelines specifically for the Standardbred breed and racing model.  Representatives from this group will be attending the Association of Racing Commissioners International meeting next month to cite examples of differences in Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, and testify why medication regulation should be breed-specific.  Don Marean, a USTA board member and legislator from Maine, spoke about the recent threat in his state to eliminate VLT revenue from the racing industry and reallot it to education.  The animal rights groups were very instrumental in this threatening legislation, and Representative Marean cautioned the industry that we must be vigilant about public perception of our sport.

Renee Mancino, Executive Director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, presented an overview of the very extensive marketing plan that OHHA has been working on for the past few years.  If you race in Ohio, you have seen the eye-catching “wraps” on some of the horsemen’s trailers—part of that plan.  Another interesting project is “pump toppers” at service stations within a certain radius of each pari-mutuel track.  The OHHA is trying to fill in with promotions that the track themselves wouldn’t normally do.

The USTA now has a dedicated Social Media Team.  You are seeing more evidence of that on all platforms and many more videos on the website. The team is utilizing Sprout, a social media monitoring and analytics software which can be used to evaluate collaborative promotions between the USTA, tracks, and horsemen’s associations. On-line services also continue to expand, with many more member features available electronically in My Account and Pathway.  The 2019 Board Meeting, itself, was much more technologically driven.

The Registration Committee included a presentation on the new microchipping ID program.  All 2019 foals will be microchipped for ID purposes. They are using a biothermal chip from Merck, which allows for temperature scanning also.  Scanners are available at a discount for USTA members.  Eventually, the related database will enable storage of coggins, vaccination, and other health records.  The USTA approved a grant to an equine genetics study at UC Davis for delving into selective breeding for health and soundness issues in Standardbreds.

Uniform rules have been an ongoing topic for the past couple of years.  John Campbell, representing the Uniform Racing Rules committee in his capacity as president of the Hambletonian Society, chaired that meeting. The intent is to eventually have uniform rules in all racing jurisdictions; very difficult to accomplish when working with many different racing commissions and authorities.

You have probably read about the new Standardbred Transition Alliance, patterned after the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance; which will be an accreditation and grant-making organization for aftercare of the equine athlete and support of Standardbreds transitioning into new careers after racing.  The STA now has a board of directors and legal non-profit status.  David Reid, from Preferred Equine Marketing, is the new president of that group and gave an informative presentation to the full board. STA will develop a website, fundraise, develop grant criteria, and accept applications in 2019, and start making grants in 2020. This aftercare effort is so important, especially with threats to racing by animal rights groups.  Reid emphasized that funding must be broad-based with financial participation by everyone involved in the industry.

There were five new USTA board members elected.  Many of you will remember Lenny Calderone, who was the announcer several years ago at Saginaw and Sports Creek.  He is now an employee of Plainridge Park and is a track member on the board representing District 9.  I always enjoy, and feel that one of the most valuable opportunities at the meeting, is to chat with other horsemen and industry people, either during committee meetings, at meals, or just in the hallway between formal meetings.

As always, call me, another director, or the USTA office if you have any questions.  Our annual district meeting alternates between Michigan and Indiana since we are one district.  2019 is Michigan’s year, and preliminary plans are for a Fall meeting on a race day at Northville Downs.  Please plan to attend to give your input on rule changes, and get updates on what is happening at the USTA. Have a great summer!