Oklahoma regulators adopt Category 1 interference policy

The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission (OHRC) became the first in North America to adopt a rule which emulates the globally-recognized Category 1 interference philosophy after agreeing to amend its rules at its meeting on Thursday in Oklahoma City.

“This is a tremendous first step for North American racing jurisdictions to begin the process of harmonizing rules governing interference and improving the overall experience for racing’s primary customers – the bettors,” said Patrick Cummings, executive director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation.

“What we have in North America is a patchwork quilt of various rules which often place total equity above consistency and logic in determining which infrastructures warrant a demotion. It is always toughest to be the first, so I commend the OHRC for taking that step and I anticipate several others will follow in the near future.”

The amended rule changes the consideration of stewards when determining interference. The exact wording of the amended rule is below:

“If the Stewards determine a Horse or its rider has caused an interference and finished in front of the Horse it interfered with, and if not for the interference the Horse would have finished behind the horse it interfered with, the interfering Horse shall be placed immediately behind the Horse with which it interfered. If the interference is a result of dangerous riding, the Stewards shall place the interfering horse in last place.”

Should interference be the result of dangerous riding, the OHRC’s rule empowers stewards to demote the interfering horse to last, regardless of where the sufferer of the interference finished. This addition to the rule, within the scope of the international Category 1 philosophy, was adopted to discourage jockeys from employing a “win-at-any-cost” approach.

“Dangerous riding’ means a rider causes a serious infrastructure by: (A) purposely interference with another horse or rider; or (B) riding in a way which is far below that of a competent and careful rider and where it would be obvious to a competent and careful rider that riding in that way would likely endanger the safety of another horse or rider.”

The rule amendment was proposed in November 2021 and after a public comment period, was passed unanimously by the Commission’s Rules Committee. Racing in the state occurs across three tracks – Fair Meadows, Remington Park and Will Rogers Downs.

Under the state’s procedure, amended rules are usually implemented in September.

The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation has advocated for North American jurisdictions to consider shifting to the Category 1 philosophy since publication of its November 2018 white paper “Changing The Rules.

“In some states a relatively harmless bump a mile from the finish could lead to the demotion of a 15-length winner because the Stewards believed a horse that finished ninth could have been eighth. Racing’s betting customers and owners have suffered from the injustices imposed by such rules and the inconsistent application of them for years,” said Cummings.

“Oklahoma is leading the way towards a better future for racing participants and customers by becoming the first jurisdiction to adopt a rule that embraces the Category 1 philosophy. We fully expect their lead will be followed by others in the months and years to come.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), regulators of racing in the Canadian province, conducted a stakeholder consultation period on adopting Category 1 rules in early 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to any action and it has yet to be revisited.

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