Racing Regulation

How does racing regulation process work? What is AQHA’s role? How can you make a difference?

text size

The world of racing and its regulation can sometimes feel like a maze, even for those involved. To those outside the industry, and even horsemen within the industry, the lines of enforcement, authority and responsibility are blurred. 

Simply put, most people sincerely do not really know who is responsible for what when it comes to enforcement, authority and responsibility.

So who is responsible for what? And where should you go to make your voice heard?

Read on for more information.

The Process of Authority

The first line of regulation is the stewards employed by a racetrack and/or a Racing Commission. Their work is similar to a sports referee, but wide-ranging and very important. They work during the entire race meet, ensuring that the rules are followed. 

Each racetrack is unique, but the main duties include:

  • Overseeing the business of racing, such as making sure information such as scratches and other changes from the program are properly shown on the toteboard and conveyed to the public, and approving racing claims. 
  • Verifying the attendance of other important jobs, such as paramedics, track and state veterinarians, race chart callers, announcers, and other essential personnel before the first race.
  • Ensure the rules of racing are enforced, such as proper horse identification, equipment changes, adjucating race issues as necessary and declaring races official.
  • Conduct hearings when necessary to adjudicate a licensee’s offense. 

The rules of racing are created within each state, and overseen by a state racing commission. These commissions are state run and state funded. 

At present, the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s model rules serve as a template from which the individual states can set their own regulation. This includes a Uniform Classification Guide that covers drugs, their classifications and recommended penalties. 

Moving forward, the implementation of the national Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act will change the regulatory process as we know it today, at least for the Thoroughbred industry. For now, the federal oversight is not inclusive of Quarter Horse racing.

The state commissions work to ensure the integrity of racing in order to protect the interests of the wagering public and the state. 

Although most jurisdiction’s rules are closely aligned to the ARCI Model Rules, each commission has its own rules and regulations, and they enforce rule violations (such as medication violations) that happen within their state’s tracks. 

Domestic and international commissions or regulating bodies are all independent and work under their own authority. AQHA does not have jurisdiction on racing rules. 

AQHA works to assist jurisdictions and groups with rulemaking and making rules as uniform as possible, but does not have any regulating authority. The association’s rules for racing only outline the criteria necessary to make a race eligible to be recognized and recorded in the association’s records. 

Industry Groups
There are a number of organizations that represent important interests in the racing industry. These groups may have influence, but are not directly responsible for the rules of racing. 

Some of the major groups include:

  • Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) – The umbrella organization of the official governing rule making bodies for professional horse and greyhound racing.  It sets international standards for racing regulation, medication policy (including classification of medications and recommended penalties), drug testing laboratories, totalizator systems, racetrack operation and security and off-track wagering entities. 
  • Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) – Made up of several dozen membership organizations, the RMTC supports research, education and advocacy for science-based initiatives to promote the health and safety of the racehorse and the integrity of the sport. With support of their Scientific Advisory Committee, this entity also assert’s it’s expertise regarding medication regulation and penalties.
  • Jockey’s Guild – This jockey-led organization looks out for the welfare of its riders on the racetrack, as well as improving education and supporting jockeys on and off the track. 
  • The Racing Officials Accreditation Program is a collaborative effort between industry organizations to provide continuing education for all racing officials, stewards and judges in the horse racing industry. 
  • National and state Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective associations are run by horsemen for horsemen. They do promotion, participate in legislative work, do continuing education for members, support communication on critical issues for horsemen and develop programs to benefit the industry. 

American Quarter Horse Association

The American Quarter Horse Association is the largest breed registry in the world.

Its mission includes:

  • To record and preserve the pedigree of the American Quarter Horse while maintaining the integrity of the breed and welfare of its horses.
  • To provide beneficial services for its members which enhance and encourage American Quarter Horse ownership and participation.
  • To develop diverse educational programs, material and curriculum that will position AQHA as the leading resource organization in the equine industry.
  • To generate growth of AQHA membership via the marketing, promotion, advertising and publicity of the American Quarter Horse.
  • To ensure the American Quarter Horse is treated humanely, with dignity, respect and compassion at all times.

The association does not have direct race regulatory duties. It cannot enforce racing violations – this is done by the commissions. 

The rules of racing outlined in the association’s handbook specify the requirements a race must have in order to be recognized and recorded in the association’s official database. This information is then linked to a horse’s performance and produce record as a way to increase value of a horse and its progeny. 

Representatives of the association are involved with industry efforts, such as legislation or the industry groups, and advocate for measures to both protect the horse and the integrity of the industry. However, the association itself can only regulate its own programs, such as the Racing Challenge or year-end champion awards. 

The Association’s Awards and Media Policy is a reciprocal action taken by the association that affects only its media and awards. It is not an official regulatory action. 

State Racing Affiliates
Serving a more local group, states have local racing affiliates that are made up of horsemen who work to improve the industry in their area. These affiliates can affect change via a number of different ways and have a much more direct influence on their individual region. This might include, for example, everything from lobbying for the change of their jurisdiction’s racing rules, to incentive or nomination races, to regional events such as youth racing experiences, which introduce young people into racing. 

Make a Difference
To affect change, it is important to get involved and make your voice heard. 

  1. The best place to start is at the local level. Your local or state affiliate can always use volunteers to help organize events, legislate to improve racing for its horsemen and to fundraise. 
  2.  If you are a member of AQHA and have concerns about AQHA rules, contact your director to voice your opinion.
  3. AQHA is a member-driven organization. To apply to join an AQHA committee, including the AQHA Racing Committee, visit AQHA’s committee page for more information. The Racing Committee has two in-person meetings per year, one held during the AQHA Convention, the other during the AQHA Racing Conference held in conjunction with the Challenge Championships each fall. Both meetings are open to AQHA members and interested parties.
  4. State racing commissions have regular meetings, often monthly, that are typically open to attend. Check the commission’s website for meeting information, agendas and how to submit comments or agenda items. 

Talking Points 

•    The importance of horse racing
•    Equine welfare and medications