In response to Sunday’s column, Hambletonian Society president John Campbell explains some needed rule changes are close to being implemented with several rules already passed by the USTA and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The challenge now is to get those rules adopted by the regulators in each state and province that has harness racing.
by Brett Sturman
In Sunday’s column (full column here), I mused on various rule change proposals that I felt should be considered for upcoming U.S. Trotting Association (USTA) district meetings. As it turns out, some of those proposed changes are already on a towards being implemented.
Specifically, rules around the inclusion of a fair-start pole and driver conduct during a race, such as unnecessarily providing a hole for a horse without re-passing, have been passed at the USTA level, and earlier this month in August at Saratoga, NY were adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s (ARCI) Model Rules Committee.
Hall of Fame driver and Hambletonian Society president John Campbell has been at the forefront of rule initiatives, and he provides background into what his work and the process has entailed.
“Rules was my very first project when I took the job with the Hambletonian Society, and I wanted to try and get the rules more uniformed from state to state. Once I started that, it kind of took on a life of its own,” said Campbell. “And it grew to include Canada, so there were two committees formed; one here in the states, which I picked, and it was a very broad section of people. It included racetrack managers, people from horsemen’s groups, drivers, judges, the head of a racing commission and me obviously, so we had a pretty broad cross section of racing people represented.
“There were some Canadian people involved, and the Canadians took a little bit of a different approach. They put a committee together that was primarily made up of regulators, which was easier for Canada to do because they have fewer racing jurisdictions in Canada, and there were five or six of us that were on both committees. And the idea of it was to try to mirror the language up so that we could have very similar racing rules (between Canada and the U.S.), and we went through all the rules in the Canadian book that are in place now. That part’s been done, but now the regulators have to take this back to their people and hopefully will be adopted by the various racing jurisdictions in Canada.”
Back to the States, what Campbell found true early on was that he’d have greater levels of success at getting rules implemented if those rules first had the backing of the USTA.
“Now, the first thing people will say is that the USTA does not have any regulatory power, which is true, but they do have influence.
“So what we did with my committee was we put in for a number of rule changes in 2018 and 2019 at the USTA level, and from there, you take that to ARCI. That’s what we did. They were all adopted at the USTA level, and all but one or two of them came from my committee of the rules that pertained strictly to racing.”
As Campbell discussed rule adoptions from the August ACRI meetings, just this week on Aug. 26 the USTA website posted a release which documented the 12 amendments to ACRI Model Rules that were approved from that meeting. Included in those amendments to rules are amendment to ARCI-021-020 FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT (G) DISTANCE MARKERS (4) with regard to the fair start pole, and amendment to ARCI-024-036 RACING RULES (J)(1) and (13) Conduct of the Race with regard to driving violations, which specifically calls for changes to drivers unnecessarily providing holes.
The amendment for the fair start pole mirrors what is used today in Canada, as well as following the language for the fair start pole used in Indiana. It states clearly, “if a horse has not reached the fair start pole when the horses are released at the starting gate by the starter, the judges shall cause the inquiry sign to be displayed immediately and shall request the horse be refunded.”
Verbiage for drivers opening up a hole for another horse was added to the existing rule pertaining to not allow another horse to needlessly pass on the inside. Along the lines of allowing other horses to improve position, the updated language reads that drivers cannot allow another horse to improve its position “in the race by opening up a hole without then promptly pulling to re-pass the horse, unless the failure to re-pass is necessitated by safety reasons.”
In addition to these two rules, Campbell also points to recent changes that have been put through. “Horses moving to the outside are required to move up, and those can be looked up on the USTA. We’ve also implemented a change in trailing horses to what Dave (Briggs) alluded to in a prior HRU column (full column here) from when he was in Sweden. Let’s say you have two trailers at the Meadowlands. Now, the 11 has a choice to follow either the 1 or the 2, and the 12 would have a choice to follow either the 3 or the 4. There’s also a rule requiring that the lead horse stay within approximately four feet of the rail rather than drifting out while they’re cutting the mile (ARCI-024-036 J).
“And I will say that this is something that the committee and myself felt was really important – we tried to adjust the rules where we could help the closers more. We feel that our races have become much too predictable with the front-end speed and we’re trying with these rules to do anything we can to bring the closers more into play, make the races more exciting and more bet-able.”
The adoption of these rules by ARCI validates Campbell’s belief that rules would be easier to pass if they first gained USTA support. For all rules that were passed, notes from the ARCI Model Rules show that these rules were wholly supported by the USTA Board of Directors with no known opposition. Campbell noted that he and his organization ran into very little resistance from ARCI after first going through the USTA. Now that the rules have been passed at a USTA level and adopted by ARCI, the question becomes: what’s next?
“We need these various racing commissions to take a look at these new rules that we’ve put in, compare it to what they have, and get them to implement the ones that they don’t have,” Campbell said. “The fair start rule is in place. I’m hoping that will be adopted by all the commissions, as will the rule about requiring to re-move after giving a hole unless there is a safety issue where you can’t.”
As far as the timing around seeing these changes be implemented will depend on the individual states, said Campbell.
“Obviously, I’m reaching out to the various racing commissions to have them look at it and I just had a couple of conversations today on it. The jurisdictions I’ve spoken to have been very positive, but it’s different from state to state, the state law to change rules is different. Some can do it right away, others can take longer and can be more difficult, so it’s going to vary from state to state.”