When the federal indictments of over two dozen people in the sport of horse racing came down for drug adulteration and misbranding, it was confirmation of years and years of suspicion that horse racing wasn’t the “cleanest” off all sports, President and CEO of the legendary Williams Hanover Shoe Farms Russell Williams felt it was time to act.
Williams is the grandson of Hanover Shoe founder Lawrence Sheppard, who in 1920 opened the Standardbred operation in Hanover, Penn.
The farm made waves in Standardbred Racing and quickly emerged as one of the sport’s largest breeding farms.
Hanover Shoe has been the country’s top breeder by U.S. Trotting Association figures for the past several years.
The indictments of Standardbred and Thoroughbred trainers doping horses while escaping the detection, like the rest of us, troubled Williams immensely.
“Here at Hanover Shoe farm, we sell about 230 yearlings, or that’s what we’re going to sell this year,” said Williams, who is also the president of the U.S. Trotting Association.
“We try to raise them right and love them and take good care of them. To send them out into the world to be subjected to the things described in those indictments … it breaks our hearts. We’re going to show them we’re not going to say goodbye to them when they leave here. We’re going to put this challenge grant down and make some things happen.”
At a meeting of the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission this past Tuesday afternoon, Williams announced that Hanover Shoe will offer $250,000 in the form of a grant to fund investigative services in racing.
Those funds would be available not just for Pennsylvania, but nationwide.
Williams’ goal is to fund an agency similar to or including 5 Stones Intelligence, which according to The Jockey Club contributed intelligence to the FBI investigation, eventually resulting in the indictments.
“The state racing commissions are chronically underfunded,” Williams said. “They’re left to do their jobs in a less than ideal legislative and regulatory environment, and the tradition among horse people has been not to police themselves. So what would be the number one thing that would help? It’s got to be good investigation. Even if there was a federal authority, they’re not going to know who to go after without good investigation. If you read the Horseracing Integrity Act, they don’t have the power to activate the FBI.”
Williams said he hopes that funding will ultimately come from the Thoroughbred side of the racing industry as well.
“If all the racing breeds got together on this it would just be awesome,” he said.
Williams said the project is still in its initial planning stages, but the $250,000 figure would likely run for a year, with “additional grants possible in future years”.
“We’re working right now on the design of the business model,” said Williams. “We have to find a structure that will protect the administration of the money from allegations of conflict-of-interest. It looks like there must be some sort of third-party oversight. Also, there will be no pulling punches: what the investigations find must be dealt with correctly and intensively in every case. So that’s the hold-up.”
Initial response to Williams’ announcement to the commission was, of course, very positive.
Although the logistics are still in the works, Williams encourages anyone interested in contributing to the fund to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org