From the Office of Craig Huffhines

History, Enthusiasm, Investment, Integrity

AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines shares highlights from All American race weekend in New Mexico and discusses the future of American Quarter Horse racing.

American Quarter Horse Association

If you love Quarter Horses, regardless of their discipline, you must put the All American on your bucket list.

In 1959, investors Eugene Hensley, Carl Mercer and cowboy musician Ray Reed held the first All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, solidifying the date for the next 58 years; it would be Labor Day weekend.

More than $5.4 million dollars in purses were up for grabs over the three days of elite sprint-track racing at Ruidoso, New Mexico. Undoubtedly, the All American is considered the “Super Bowl” of Quarter Horse racing.

If you love Quarter Horses, regardless of their discipline, you must put the All American on your bucket list. The All American Derby held September 3 distributed a total purse of $1.37 million for the 3-year-old Derby finalists, and the All American Futurity held September 4 paid out $3 million dollars as the richest race in all of Quarter Horse racing for the fastest 2-year-old horses in the world. Combined, the two races paid out a staggering $4,364,908. That kind of money is one of the most prolific economic drivers of the Quarter Horse breeding industry.

The weekend also boasted of one of the most exciting racing Quarter Horse yearling sales in the country, which this year grossed $13,169,000 on 308 yearlings sold. Gross dollars spent for yearling prospects was up 9 percent from a year ago, while the average for the sale was up 16 percent at $42,756. The median sale price was up 4 percent at $27,000.

Even the betting public was more aggressive and optimistic this year, as a packed house at Ruidoso Downs along with out-of-state simulcast bettors wagered more than $2.7 million, an increase of 6 percent from a year ago.

Looking at this event alone, one might infer that there is an enormous amount of optimism within the Quarter Horse racing industry; and on the surface this is true.

There are new investors who have purchased the historic Ruidoso Downs, the very place where legendary Hall of Fame horses are made. The new potential investment in the mountain racetrack brings about the potential for refreshing newness to the facility and to the sport. Renowned Quarter Horse racing investors, including wireless telephone service pioneer Stan Sigman, insurance mogul John Andreini, AQHA Past President and Texas cattle feeder Johnny Trotter and Houston businessman Narsico "Chicho" Flores have come together to purchase the facility from longtime owner R.D. Hubbard.

All of this momentum and investment has the potential to carry the sport into the next decade and secure the future for this generation and the next generation of Quarter Horse breeding enthusiasts.

However, the culture of horse racing today must be modified for this sport to survive into the next decade. It must change in order for new investors in the business to be successful. It must change to attract a younger generation of betting enthusiasts to play the horses in addition to a growing interest in casino gaming and what is likely to become legalized professional sports betting.

We cannot change human nature. Our country and our capitalist culture were built on greed and fear, and that human nature will never change. Markets are driven off these human natures. However, there will always be those who take greed to the extreme, stretch the limits of fairness and push the abilities of the horse to deadly limits. It’s this human nature that creates the most risk for the sport. To combat this dark side of human nature, the industry continues to work toward bringing forth the very best science, the very best standards for monitoring, with uniformity and reciprocity of rules of law across state lines to secure the integrity of the sport.

For the past year, AQHA has been pushing very hard for racing uniformity and reform by conducting joint meetings with key Quarter Horse jurisdictions, organizing a laboratory uniformity meeting in conjunction with Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and investing in professional investigation teams at our major races.

Still, our strongest Quarter Horse state jurisdictions are not yet on the same page.

While attending the American Horse Council annual meeting this past June in Washington, D.C., AQHA Past President Dr. Glenn Blodgett and I had the opportunity to visit with Congressman Andy Barr (R-Ky). Our purpose there was to share our thoughts on behalf of AQHA and the Quarter Horse industry regarding the federal racing integrity legislation of which he is a sponsor. We shared several concerns with him regarding the proposed federal legislation that if passed would take local regulatory control over medication violations away from the state commissions and put it into the hands of a federal authority.

There were several concerns about this proposed legislation that Dr. Blodgett and I shared with the congressman:

  • The unscientific basis for a proposed ban of Lasix, a known therapeutic medication proven to reduce and prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which is bleeding caused by exercise.
  • Representation on the proposed authority and whether or not known animal-activist groups with publicly stated objections to horse racing would have a leadership seat on that authority.
  • Whether already-established scientific bodies like the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium would be the chief council regarding medication science, as in AQHA’s opinion, it should be.
  • The federal government’s ability to adjudicate the massive number of medication violations across the country at the speed of commerce.
  • That a costly industry-funded bureaucracy could have an inefficient and uneconomical price tag that would force smaller state jurisdictions out of business.

Without a doubt, the congressman knew his subject matter. We were extremely impressed with his level of engagement, knowledge and enthusiasm for horse racing. He was completely on top of the issues and he understood where we were coming from. By the end of the meeting, it was very clear that the congressman, without question, wanted the same thing that AQHA racing leadership wants – to assure the integrity of horse racing for the betting public and the owners of racehorses.

He closed with this thought: Very soon, professional sports leagues are going to lobby to legalize sports betting. As recently as July, National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver stated that he is optimistic that sports betting will be legalized in the next few years. Interstate betting of any sport is and will be in the future squarely under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission. That authority falls under congressional oversight and if local jurisdictions cannot assure integrity, rest assured, Congress will take over that effort.

If and when that happens, the stakes for violations will be higher and the punishment and suspensions for violations will not be stayed in a local court of convenience. Penalties will be stiff, testing will be thorough and the use of illegal substances will not be tolerated. That goal is consistent with AQHA’s message and actions for the past five years.

We at AQHA endorse racing integrity. Our black-type pedigree that supports breeding decisions depends on it. The value discovery process of horses that supported $13 million in horse sales this past weekend depends on it, owners depend on it for driving confidence in their investment based on the assumption that there will be an even playing field on the track and the betting public’s confidence in handicapping, which drives the economic engine for racing, depends on it.

It is our hope that state commissions will work collaboratively with a coalition of laboratories to unify standards. Loopholes must be closed to keep horses trained by violators off the track until drug testing clears them to run. Commissions need to be more consistent in doing their job in testing and detecting violations, enforcing the law and imposing deterrents.

It is our wish that state attorneys general and state courts will support commission suspensions and not bypass rulings through legal stays of appeal. At some point, habitual bad actors must be banned for life. If these measures don’t happen, one of two scenarios will occur: 1) Horse racing as we know it will disappear like the horse and buggy, or 2) The federal government will intervene and fix it for us if it’s not too late.

Ruidoso Downs and the All American Futurity are national cultural treasures worth preserving and it’s my hope that our continued efforts with all of our state Quarter Horse racing commissions will create the answers we need to protect and secure the future of the sport.