There’s no one in racing I respect more than the man who fired me 15 years ago.
Stuart S. Janney III was chairman of Blood-Horse Publications’ board of trustees in 2007 when substance abuse got the best of me. I had already been given a second chance, and it was the right decision for me to be terminated from my position as the company’s editorial director and editor-in-chief of its flagship weekly magazine.
During my better years at Blood-Horse Publications, I found Janney to be unfailingly fair-minded and insightful in his oversight of the company and its business. Though I knew he had his opinions on various racing matters, not once did he lean on me to comment on a particular topic or throw editorial support behind a specific area of concern to him. That’s all an editor can ask for.
But that’s not why I have so much respect for Janney, who has served on countless industry committees and since 2015 has led The Jockey Club as its chairman.
It’s in that latter role where Janney’s leadership and resolve to restore integrity to the game have made an enormous difference.
If it weren’t for Janney, there would have been no 5 Stones Intelligence private investigation into the illegal doping of racehorses, no FBI probe, no indictments of the cheaters, and no guilty pleas and convictions that have led to multiple years of jail time and restitution in the millions of dollars in purse money stolen from honest horse owners and trainers.
If the 5 Stones investigation hadn’t been instigated by The Jockey Club under Janney’s leadership, there likely would be no Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act passed by Congress in 2020 – the same year as the 30 federal indictments – and no HISA Authority that, for the first time in racing history, will regulate the sport on a national basis with uniform safety policies, medication rules, testing, and enforcement.
Janney has his detractors, for sure.
I recall attending the National Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association’s annual convention in 2016, one year after Janney succeeded the late Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps as chairman, when one panelist warned the audience that a “small group of elitists” (code for The Jockey Club) was “trying to marginalize horsemen.”
That’s been a recurring theme by the opposition throughout the years-long efforts by The Jockey Club, the Water Hay Oats Alliance, and others who supported federal legislation creating a national regulatory body; namely that “elitists” want to bring back the days of the Sport of Kings, where only the wealthiest of owners and breeders participate.
That perception is misguided and runs contrary to The Jockey Club’s mission, Janney said in a recent interview where he laid out how the 5 Stones investigation began.
“I’ll take you back about eight years,” Janney said. “I remember going to a big Saturday at NYRA. I don’t know if I had a horse in or not, but I watched the races, I watched who won, I watched the whole thing. I remember walking out of there and saying to myself, ‘I’m not sure that maybe all those races were won by people who were taking an edge, were cheating.’ I was told when I got into this business you are going to lose 75 percent of the time if you are the best in the game. And that’s OK, I don’t mind saying to somebody after a race, ‘Congratulations, your horse ran great.’ But I said to myself, ‘If I believe what I’m thinking, I won’t do that anymore. I can’t congratulate somebody that I think has cheated. And I’m not sure I can abide being in this game if I think it’s not being pretty much played fairly.’”
Janney’s suspicions were fortified after multiple conversations he’d had with his trainer, Shug McGaughey, and Claiborne Farm’s Seth Hancock.
“They would come at the problems we had in our industry, particularly around integrity, in different ways,” Janney said. “I’d get on the phone with Seth on a Monday or Tuesday morning and he’d say, ‘Stuart, did you see the horse that won that stake over the weekend? I’ve looked back through that horse’s pedigree, and there isn’t one ancestor of that horse to suggest they could do what they did on Saturday. I’m not saying that can’t happen, but it’s happening all the time now.’ To me, that suggested that we don’t have a level playing field.
“I’d seen this industry flush itself down the toilet,” Janney said. “It struck me that we needed to do something.”
The Monday after walking out of Belmont feeling furious about the game, Janney called Jim Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, and, in his own words, “unloaded on him.” He said he was tired of attending meetings at which the same problems are discussed endlessly without a solution. “We were never organized to do anything between meetings,” he said. “Six months later we’d have another meeting and the same group would complain about the same things. Maybe I was too pessimistic, but if we kept doing what we’ve been doing, I couldn’t tell you how long it would take, but eventually we would run the ship on the rocks and be irrelevant and consumed by our critics.”
Gagliano offered some suggestions that involved the New York State Gaming Commission, which had succeeded the State Racing and Wagering Board as New York’s racing regulator.
“I said, ‘Well, Jim, if that’s all we can do, let’s just not worry about it. They’re never going to do anything. It’s not going to go anywhere,’” Janney recalled.
Gagliano sought outside advice, reaching out to Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Tygart suggested Gagliano contact 5 Stones Intelligence. After a series of meetings, Janney agreed to retain the firm.
This was in 2015, shortly after health problems prompted Phipps to step down as chairman of The Jockey Club, a role he’d held for 32 years.
”Dinny was sick and I’d taken over The Jockey Club,” Janney recalled. “I would not in any way say that Dinny would not have done the same thing; in fact, he was still with us when I said I wanted to do this with 5 Stones and I asked him how he felt about that. He said, ‘Well, The Jockey Club exists to do two things: to protect the integrity of the breed and to grow the sport. And I think what you intend to do is exactly down the center line of those two things, so I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it.’”
Within a month of being retained, 5 Stones came back with encouraging news.
“They said, ‘We think we’ve found somebody that’s really important in this whole thing,’” Janney said. 5 Stones identified Florida-based veterinarian Seth Fishman, who in addition to horse and camel racing was involved in mixed martial arts and was on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s radar screen.
Fishman was convicted by a jury on charges of drug adulteration and misbranding and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Janney said he was taken aback by the speed of 5 Stones finding a key player in the horse-doping scheme.
“I remember thinking at the time, ‘That’s great, but I’m really worried it’s too easy to be able to figure this out in a month.’ And nobody before them could figure it out?”
The 5 Stones team told Janney and Gagliano cheating was “rampant” and that they knew how to get the federal government interested in what was going on. “There wasn’t any other answer,” he said. “You either clean it up or go home.”
The FBI, working with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and having the power of subpoenas, laid out clear-cut cheating and deceit in their March 2020 indictments of trainers, veterinarians, and drug distributors.
“The federal government’s general view, it’s been explained to me, is that they come into an industry, they do what they have done in our industry, then they expect us to go from there and do our own laundry,” said Janney, who expressed greater confidence in having a more level playing field today as a result of the criminal investigations and the creation of HISA.
“I think we have a really good chance,” he said. “We’re not going to stop all cheating, but we’ll make it much cleaner. It’s going to take a combination of boots on the ground – the 5 Stones type of investigation – and better testing. It’s not going to be perfect, but when there’s a problem, we need somebody to stand up in an unconflicted way and say, ‘Yep, there’s a problem. Here’s what we’re going to do about it.’ We haven’t had that. Any time we got into a problem, there wasn’t anybody that was responsible.”
Janney shrugs off the personal attacks he’s been subjected to since The Jockey Club took an active role under his leadership to clean up the game and push for the creation of a national regulatory structure.
“I always thought I’d be criticized,” he said. “I guess you can’t be popular everywhere and you’ll drive yourself nuts trying to be. I don’t want to return this game to the Sport of Kings. I don’t think that’s a possibility, no matter how it’s defined. What I do think is it’s important that we have a sport where people can run for enough purse money to pay their bills and we are a mainstream sport and not just a peripheral afterthought in certain parts of the country. If that’s the case, then we’re done.”
Going forward, Janney said, “HISA needs to take the lead. We’ll do everything we can to encourage them, and if they need resources, we’ll try to be helpful. Jim (Gagliano) and I are hopeful that will happen, and hopeful The Jockey Club can change our focus a little bit to other issues that are important and where we can get something done.”
Janney did not set off on this mission to restore integrity to the game without support. The aforementioned Water Hay Oats Alliance kept the issue of drugs in racing at the forefront, thanks to Arthur and Staci Hancock. Others, like breeders and owners George Strawbridge and Barry Irwin, used their influence and platforms to stir the pot. There were many more. But Janney was the right person at the right time. He took things to the next level, one that got results.
Eclipse Awards will be handed out in Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 26 to honor performances on the racetrack by horses and the people connected with them. There is also an Eclipse Award of Merit, considered by many to be the highest honor in the game, one that recognizes outstanding achievement by an individual. No one is more deserving of that award than Stuart S. Janney III.
That’s my view from the eighth pole.