Article written by J.N. Campbell
Right now, Google, Apple, and a host of other powerful algorithmically-built companies are gathering data to reflect how a global pandemic operates; first it was “contract tracing,” then they altered it after some cried foul and are calling it “exposure notification.”
Whatever turn of phrase, that is big tech for you, supplying broad understanding to cities and states with the purpose of controlling something that does not care to be controlled. Still, data has equaled power for centuries, lest we forget. In Europe and the United States, technology firms have begun sharing “anonymized” smartphone data to better track the outbreak.
Even privacy-enamoured Germany is considering using a smartphone app to help modulate the spread of the disease. But the civil liberty-minded argue that police-state regimes are using the coronavirus as a pretext to suppress free speech and increase Big Brother’s eyes.
In many democracies, others fear widespread data-harvesting (think locusts) will lead to more intrusion, thus infringing on their digital rights. Down in my mental bunker, I have been devoting significant time to this perplexing issue. To gather or not to gather…
It is a tough one. Maybe instead of using a macro approach to uncover a fixed position, why not focus on something much tighter.
Take Thoroughbred racing, for instance.
Globally-speaking (Australia, Asia, Middle East, Europe, etc…) wagering is elevated, while racing regulations have established strong lines in the proverbial sand for fostering best practices and assigning culpability. Only America lags. The sport is in a well-documented regional power struggle with itself over centralized authority—the old question of home rule or who should rule at home.
It has gotten to the point where connections seem to offer a Randian shrug at the mention of the topic. “It has been going on for years,” is a vernacular quote. Might there be a segment within the sport where examination of the question, “to gather” or “not to gather,” might prove fruitful?
Look no further than the Irish-based company…
Equine MediRecord. They have their fingers on the pulse of racing, and their prescience will pay major dividends for everyone with a system that will only assist the sport’s need for more transparency.
The accompanying app is the brainchild of Pierce Dargan. The offspring of a successful racing family, his grandfather, Michael Dargan bred Flaming Rock, twice Horse of the Year in South Africa. While his father, Alan Dargan, bred horses such as Captain Gerrard, multiple group winner of the Cornwallis Stakes and Palace House Stakes, who went to stud in the UK. Thus, Dargans have been involved with the sport for generations and know what it is about.
Pierce Dargan made his own mark on the sport when he started the Blackrock Racing Syndicate with trainers Joseph O’Brien (Ireland) and James Ferguson (UK). In 2019, the team won the Microsoft Cup in Leopardstown with Arthurian Fame.
Growing up working on the family stud (Eyrefield House) during the summers, for Dargan it was only natural that he fell in love with the racing industry.
While his family operations were primarily breeding, their stud manager, Bill Farrell, earned his training license and before long they had a small, yet successful, racing stable. The family yard refocused its attention on breeding, being run by Plantium Bloodstock, led by Robert and Amber Byrne.
Equine MediRecord germinated when Dargan was helping Farrell with the voluminous paperwork that a stable can amass. While attending university in Dublin, an hour away from the horses, it became difficult to keep pace with the necessary regulations on recording medicines and keeping vaccinations up to date. Commuting and being plugged-in aren’t terribly efficient practices, so he saw an opportunity–needs that could and should be addressed. As he says, “I realized it would make so much more sense if everything was digital and available at a touch of a button.”
What also was on the forefront of Dargan’s mind were the local (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board) and European continental regulations concerning equine welfare. It is challenging, so as he reasoned, having a system that constantly updates increases accuracy.
“Everything is moving faster these days,” Dargan admonishes, “It takes far less time if you can pull your phone out of your pocket to complete a task rather than having to drive yourself to an office somewhere to fill out an official regulatory paper record.”
As Dargan knows all too well, in Europe, every trainer and veterinarian must keep separate records for horses under their care. All are subject to inspection, including a complete inspection at least once a year. Disarray can lead to a fine, and under certain circumstances, a trainer’s license can be suspended. California is on board with a similar arrangement.
At the start, the real problem was digital “Luddites,” fixed in place by past precedent. Dargan’s experience told him that if the system was too complicated clients would simply return to paper. His team tried to place themselves in “their shoes” by designing an app that accommodated those whose vision or dexterity were challenges.
“When we started, we had one goal, which was to replace the paper medicines register with an online Cloud-based system. So, once we had produced one that met the requirements of the regulators and the trainers, we started rolling that out to our first customers,” says Dargan.
As the design trials neared completion, they heard from several trainers who wanted to see vaccination reminders. Not 8 weeks later, their system had two features—a digital medicine register, and those prized vaccination reminders. They listened.
Updates continue based on feedback. Now, they have added horse diaries with the ability to record weights, feed, training notes, as well as pictures and videos. “Some trainers like having their vets add pictures of injuries,” replied Dargan, “so, that their team can examine these during recovery, tracking improvement and ensuring the best possible care for the horse.”
Equine MediRecord was also mindful of a stable’s budget by making it affordable for everyone from the smallest trainers to the larger, more established, heavyweights. For this reason, they scaled pricing to per horse rate, which was a sensible move.
Trainers and barns are lining up; all want to do right by their charges and conform, something that pundits of the sport have critiqued.
Nicky Henderson, a 5-time British Champion Trainer offered high-praise when he lauded, “Equine MediRecord has made it much easier to keep track of our vaccinations, especially after the latest Equine Flu outbreak. It gives you piece of mind about regulation, while cutting down paperwork.”
Big plans await. They launched in Ireland back in March 2018 and by June they were live in the UK. Since then, they have moved to France, and will shortly be expanding in the United States. The future looks bright. Dargan makes a convincing argument for their app. “Our system is an aid to equine welfare and we hope that it will lead to improved outcomes for horses everywhere.”
If ever there was a case for gathering and unmasking through exposure, this would qualify. Shouldn’t everyone move to a position where technology and data-gathering meld with the pursuit of affordable equine health? Though this seems to be a politically volatile divide, digital medical records that expose inequities seems like a timely idea.
“We’re proud to have a 100% compliance record for trainers using our system to date,” Dargan beamed, “with over 1,000 inspections between our three countries.” This is just the beginning.
In the meantime, as Equine MediRecord gains strength, a nexus of questions remains for those who feel safer in a paper past. Will Thoroughbred racing point towards medical gathering for the good of the sport? What of those racing organizations, should they go completely digital? Time will tell.
The world moves pretty fast. Whether we support it or not, the digital age is upon us.
J.N. Campbell is a turf writer based in Houston, Texas. His work appears in a number of publications, including the International Journal of the History of Sport, Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, Gallop Magazine, and The Sports Haven. You can read all of his prior work for ThoroCap at https://thorocap.com/jn-campbell/.
Note: This article was written solely because the author found the technology intriguing and potentially very useful for the North American racing industry. It was not sponsored by Equine MediRecord, any other organization or individual.