Barr-Tonko Bill Delivers What Thoroughbred Industry Wants, Needs

by | 08.11.2015 | 1:51pm
Rep. Andy Barr (left) and Rep. Paul Tonko

Do we really need federal legislation to establish a structure for a national agency to regulate medication use in horse racing?

The Jockey Club, Breeders' Cup and the advocacy group, Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA), say yes.

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Thoroughbred Owners of California and Association of Racing Commissioners International, among others, say no.

Two bills have been filed dealing with this issue. The first one, H.R. 2641, is a holdover from 2013 that failed to get out of committee. Sponsored by Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts and others, this bill puts the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in charge of regulations, phases out furosemide (Lasix) in two years, installs strict penalty guidelines and appears to compromise horsemen's consent on simulcasting guaranteed by the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.

The second bill, H.R. 3084, is sponsored by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus. This is the one supported by Breeders' Cup, The Jockey Club and WHOA, who along with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, and the Humane Society of the United States are members of a group called the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity. Only WHOA supports both H.R. 2641 and H.R. 3084 among horse industry organizations.

This bill would establish an independent, non-governmental agency (to be called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority) that would be populated by the CEO of USADA, five USADA board members and five individuals nominated by Thoroughbred industry organizations and selected by USADA. The conflict of interest language in the bill precludes anyone from the horse industry serving on the THADA board if they have an investment in horses, provide services in the horse industry or work for a horse industry organization.

The Barr-Tonko bill has language specifying that it does not “modify or eliminate any of the consents, approvals or agreements required by the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 or impair or restrict the operation and enforcement of state law or regulation of Thoroughbred horseracing with respect to matters unrelated to anti-doping or for violations of state or federal criminal law.”

The Barr-Tonko bill creates a national authority that will have input from the horse racing industry in drafting national medication rules, drug testing standards and protocols (including out-of-competition screening) and uniform rules for enforcement and penalties for violators.

It promises to deliver what virtually everyone in Thoroughbred racing wants: one set of rules throughout the United States for medication use, more efficient testing programs (including research and development) and enforcement standards and rules that are the same in one state as they are in another.

The Barr-Tonko bill does not eliminate the race-day use Lasix, instead leaving it up to the THADA board to draft national rules and regulations.

So, who could possibly stand in opposition to these goals?

Proponents of the bill are taking it from both sides.

Some individuals who want to eliminate Lasix on race-day say the Barr-Tonko legislation doesn't go far enough. They support the Pitts legislation that bans Lasix and say WHOA and the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity have sold out on principle on this issue.

Those who want to continue the race-day use of Lasix view Barr-Tonko as an anti-Lasix bill disguised as medication reform.

The only indication about whether or not Lasix will be banned, should this legislation pass, is the bill's stated goal to bring the United States in line with “all major international Thoroughbred horseracing standards.”

Opponents have said the racing industry is moving toward uniform national rules without the need for federal intervention. There is some truth to that. A number of states have adopted the same set of regulations outlining what drugs can and cannot be used in treating horses.

But it's in the drug testing programs and enforcement of these so-called national rules where the patchwork quilt of state racing commissions are not now and likely never will be efficient or uniform.

Some states merely go through the motions when it comes to regulating medication and enforcing rules. Low bids often outweigh a laboratory's efficiency, or its commitment to R&D for tests detecting cutting-edge performance-enhancing drugs. One example: Truesdail, a California lab that contracts with over a dozen racing states, was found, during an independent audit earlier this year by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, to be woefully inadequate when it comes to detecting commonly used drugs.

Another example of the inefficiency in the current regulatory structure involves cobalt, the substance currently at the center of a major controversy in Australia. But cobalt has been on the radar of regulators since at least 2009.

In 2014, Indiana became the first U.S. state to establish rules regulating cobalt after determining through testing by the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington that it was being abused. Other states are discussing where to set threshold levels for cobalt, which can be found in low levels in feed supplements. Yet others are debating whether the substance, given in large doses, acts as a blood-doping agent in horses as it does in human sports. Some states eventually may test for cobalt while others never will. There is no consistency and appears to be no consensus on what to do.

It this federal legislation needed?

In a word, “Yes.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article should have said the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) supports H.R. 2641, legislation introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts. WHOA also supports H.R. 3084.

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Do you support federal legislation to create an independent, non-governmental agency to oversee medication regulations for Thoroughbred racing in all U.S. states?
  • Racing Fan

    I’m surprised Ray even used the Breeders Cup in paragraph 2. They are the biggest hypocrites on earth with their reversal of Lasix for their overrated two days of racing.

    • Naprovnik Naprovnik

      Repole and Gary West pitched a screaming hissy fit and called their attorneys. It is emblematic of how things work in most aspects of modern American life: those that can afford the brigade of high powered attorneys don’t suffer consequence and get what they want.

      • longtimehorsewoman

        Sadly, you are correct.

      • Horse Guy

        Well funded Lawyers won’t make a dent in this one. It’s about federal law and an obligation to enforce. Congress is actually named in the current law as responsible for oversight. It’s not complicated nor confusing.

        • Naprovnik Naprovnik

          I was responding to a criticism of the Breeder’s Cup with their ill-fated non-Lasix policy, NOT the Federal bill. Thanks for your input, but it had nothing to do with my statement.

      • LongTimeEconomist

        The Breeders’ Cup can afford high powered attorneys, too. Do you think that there is more to it than that?

        • Naprovnik Naprovnik

          Perhaps, but I would stake my bet that the owners have more money/power than the BC, especially Repole. Racing has that annoying habit of catering to the whims of its wealthy clientele, believing that brown nosing one fat jerk is better than appealing to hundreds of folks of more modest means.

  • youcantmakeitup

    Yes its needed but ones against it will lobby hard and it might be years before its in full force.

  • mikec

    You have a better chance of seeing God than any bill with Federal Intervention passing

    • LongTimeEconomist

      Based on the number of people who seem to believe in God in this country, that suggests a pretty high chance of passage.

  • guest

    This Bill is on the express train to nowhere. As well it should! The new regs put together by Alan Foreman, et al, indeed has some problems but they are not the type or degree of problems that can’t be rectified. Under this proposed Tonko legislation, you would have political hacks with no knowledge whatsoever of equine matters setting forth regulations that may be disastrous for the racing community. I, for one, am willing to let the current system sort things out, and have confidence that it will. Not to mention that when all the Congressmen and Senators from states which have TB racing are contacted by the lobby from the home track, this legislation will be tabled quicker than Grant took Richmond!

    • Just say that you are for the status quo and don’t beat around the bush.

      • guest

        Just say that you are for anti-Lasix and don’t beat around the bush.

        • Naprovnik Naprovnik

          Just say your win percentage would drop if the cheats were stopped and admit your guilt. It’s gonna be REAL clear who the abusers are…

        • So that’s what you fear, the loss of Lasix. That’s what you think this whole thing is about? In real life, the only horsemen that are worried about a loss of Lasix are those too insecure to deal with the thought of training without drugs. It is a trainer insecurity issue, not a drug issue. Horsemen have turned the issue around and made it about the welfare of the horse, when in reality it is a big blue security blanket for their fear of being found out as being inadequate. Trainers that have been around prior to the advent of legal drugs know they can still win without the stuff. It is the younger group that is nervous to a certain extent. In real life, they have nothing to fear but fear itself. Ask the rest of the racing world.

          • Racing Fan

            Barry you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about insecurity mostly because they don’t know what it’s like to train a horse not on furosemide.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      “let the current system sort things out?” I’d laugh at your absurdity but sadly, you seem to believe what you wrote. My question is, what cave have you been living in for the past 20+ years?

    • 4Bellwether666

      Current system is worthless and to even think it will sort itself is a joke and has been for many moons…GMAB???…

      • longtimehorsewoman

        Absolutely true!! It’s been almost 50 years at least. Little has changed other than MORE drugs have become legal.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      this is one of my pet peeves “no knowledge of racing”. One does not need to have any knowledge of racing. Dheating is cheating, doping is doping. People who cry “they don’t know anything about racing!” are really saying that racing has so much doping and cheating that it’s considered normal and it should be allowed to continue.

  • Gate To Wire

    Let’s just be honest. Very few people inside racing really want to clean it up. Instead they want to maintain the status quo. People like Alan Foreman are the problem, not the solution. These moderate improvements and relying on testing will never catch any real cheating. It didn’t in cycling and it won’t in racing. All it does is provide a smokescreen that horsemen actually care.

    Everyone in the know in racing realizes that the amount of cheating going on now is widespread. Look at the some of the results the last few years in the marquee Grade 1 races held in Security and out of Security. Many of the elite trainers are the biggest offenders. Everyone knows it and even when they get caught it get’s swept under the rug. Accidental, coincidence, contamination.

    Take a look at the results over the next few weeks and months. When a horse improves miraculously or does something beyond belief just take a minute and think about Lance Armstrong and his miraculous rides up the mountains in France that everyone ooh’d and ahh’d about even though it was obvious that he wasn’t clean. The exact same thing happens in racing. Particularly on races that don’t have enhanced security and out of competition testing.
    And don’t worry nothing will change. No one really wants to pull back the covers because what’s under the covers is just too scary to see.

    • Racing’s biggest problem is that it is and always has been an insiders’ game. If we want it to go mainstream and survive as a big-time sport, transparency is the key.

      • mikec

        Racing can do whatever. There is NO upside, no money on Wall Street for it and is about to be further marginalized by Fantasy Sports betting

        • Fantasy racing is right around the corner and this will serve only to reinvigorate the game. Mike, if racing sucks to bad, why don’t you just move on? You act like a necrophyliac on the corpse of the game.

          • mikec

            Only the poorly informed dont realize racing is stuck in neutral at best, down a staggering $5 billion of handle since its peak.On the horizon is subsidy pulls by Governors, more track closures and the the future of Frank Stronach’s racing empire.

            Reinvigorate??

    • jen

      Absolutely agree from an insiders perspective. Both harness and thoroughbred governing authorities would rather stick their heads in the sand than address the huge issue of cheating.
      I always wonder why the FBI does not investigate race fixing with medication. The state in NJ had a perfect opportunity to catch an overnight wonder and his girlfriend by just going to his barn early Sunday morning when he dosed the horses. Known to many but alas, the commission does not work on Sundays. Status quo.

      • Naprovnik Naprovnik

        One is not sticking one’s head in the sand when one is profiting from the corruption. There’s ALWAYS an incentive.

        • keyne

          You are right.Racetracks,even if their hands are indirectly clean,reap the lagniappe of cheaters by the take out of their bets.If connections cheat and want to make a score at the windows,they bet much,much more.Racing jurisdictions that don’t have racinos need this money as their lifeblood.Tracks love cheaters who bet A LOT of money.
          This anology is kind of like the guys who sold speedboats in Miami in the 80’s.They didn’t sell the coke,they just profited mightily from it….

          • You are sort of on the right track here, but the reason the tracks have stuck their heads in the sand is they need as many horses as possible to fill the fields, which produce the handle. The actual money bet by cheaters is probably not very significant and some of it never goes through the windows.

          • Keyne

            I agree…but some entities bet a lot on their horses no matter what the field size…

          • LongTimeEconomist

            Between the lines in what you say, Barry, is the long standing fact that we still run far too many races for the existing horse population.

          • Anna Simms

            This is a big factor. Some of those leading trainers with many entries every day are major drug users. Kick them out? Who will fill the races? I have a pasture sound (but unsound) horse at my farm who would love to testify against a leading trainer.

          • Naprovnik Naprovnik

            Perhaps, but I certainly wouldn’t dismiss the probability of their cashing some tickets at their own windows. Cash is a powerful enticement, and it doesn’t take long for an official to get used to an extra monthly stipend and a more carefree lifestyle.

          • Larry Ensor

            For one of those “guys” it didn’t end up too well for him. He was also very involved in Florida racing and breeding.

            I met him a number of times. Nice guy.

      • longtimehorsewoman

        I agree – why doesn’t the FBI investigate? Could it be because the US is getting its tax money? I think they only investigate when the government is not getting their cut. Sadly.

        • LongTimeEconomist

          What tax money do the Feds get?

    • longtimehorsewoman

      Exactly.

    • michael baldwin too

      Unfortunately your spot on. You will never have clean sport regardless of if it cycling, horse racing, football etc. Top level in all sports is far too exclusive. Temporary involvement is sometimes available and sometimes you can stay in the game. But doping in sports is the new way of keeping sports exclusive. Doping is expensive when you stay ahead of the game with it and you need to know the right people to get the right products. The game is always evolving as big pharma is ever expanding. Government involvement will do nothing to help horse racing. Their intention is pretty spot on but as we know, it never works. U.S. government takes in more capital from lobbiest then amarican tax payers. Do we really thing a government ran doping control will be any different. If so find me one sport where it’s working. Money is power. Power is winning. Winning is ego and more money.

  • gregrobertson

    No one needs knowledge of Equine matters to test for drugs, doping is doping. It isn’t the state that have been lax in enforcing rules, it is the powers in the industry who have been lax about publicizing and holding accountable those trainers and owners who cheat. The industry has seen this coming for years, sadly we did not clean this up ourselves..

  • The Barr/Tonko bill picked up some key support last week and as the days progress new supporters will be revealed as well as the full extent of the push to get this bill passed. Watch and listen for the opposition to grow. And the louder its gets, the more it becomes a reflection of how worried those engaged in protecting the status quo have become. It is a sign of the times that the staid old Jockey Club has gone from protecting the status quo to pushing for reform and change, while those that complained for years about their inactivity are now involved in keeping things the same. These people are killing the game. The Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup, the KTA, WHOA, etc. are trying to save it.

    • David Worley

      Barry, where exactly is the Barr/Tonko bill at? Has it left committee, has it made it to the floor of either house?

      • Congress in on their traditional August break. Congressman Bar has been in Israel with a large delegation of lawmakers. When Congress reconvenes the subcommittee will work on this bill.

      • Figless

        Since Congress is incapable of multi-tasking and has much, much, bigger issues on its table than this it will be a long time before this sees the light of day. Predict it will languish like the other referenced bill and thousands and thousands of other bills.

    • Naprovnik Naprovnik

      I hope the PED users are pooping their pants. They ought to be. Change is coming, or the game will die. It’s that simple.

      • 4Bellwether666

        The only way ‘The Game’ will ever die is when this planet dies…ty…

        • longtimehorsewoman

          Not true. Public opinion and lack of new owners will kill it. It has been slowing dying for years. The problem with racing is people who cannot see what is in front of their eyes and who just bury their heads in the sand,

      • lastromantribune

        the sky is falling…please…be very careful what you ask for with the FEDS…..have they ever touched anything that didn’t turn to manure ? EVER ?

        • Naprovnik Naprovnik

          There is an American flag on the moon, my friend. Please stop repeating the rhetoric you have heard on your TV and radio.

          • Keyne

            Is there?How would you know?Stanley Kubrick’s daughter doesn’t think so,and she would know.

          • Naprovnik Naprovnik

            Oh, I see … the tin foil at/conspiracy crowd, huh? Well, okay, then: the American government successfully fooled the WORLD that there is a flag on the moon. ( I didn’t know that Kubrick’s daughter had been there. My bad. Must have been on that secret Russian mission about the time of the didn’t-happen Apollo 18 that ran into those rock aliens up there.)

          • Keyne

            Kubrick’s daughter(in many interviews) has said the US government ‘rented” her faters 2001 space odyssey set for 10 days at conincidently the same exact time as the moon landing.Watch the shining,and all the moon landing images.hard to believe ,one you look into it..

        • Ben van den Brink

          Every thing is gooiing to be better, then it is nowadays.

          Mixing up the Udall bill, the Barr Tonko seems the most desired come out.

          Just a couple of states have the full uniform medication rules implemented incl the multiple points system, there needs to be more power.

    • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

      Barry, any chance that Stronach Group, NYRA or CDI will be among the new supporters to be revealed?

      • Quinnbt

        Toss Penn Gaming in with the others mentioned.

      • The Jockey Club’s Jim Gagliano announced at last Sunday’s Round Table that Frank Stronach agreed in principle to join the coalition pending further explanation and understanding of how the 5 seats allotted on the THADA board will be appointed. This could take place very shortly. As for CDI, talks have been in progress. I do not know what is happening with NYRA. In general, however, racetracks have been reluctant to join for fear of pissing off trainers, because tracks fear they could boycott the entry box. Personally, I would like to meet the trainer who would not like to run for those purses now being offered by NYRA. So exactly what they fear is a mystery to me.

        • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

          Let’s hope that Stronach follows through and that CDI and/or NYRA join the party as well. Support from the track ownership groups would enhance the chances of the bill passing IMO.

    • Ben van den Brink

      Racing faces just a couple of enemies. itself because of the structure. And those who want to go on with the wild west party.

      Medications will sort much and much longer effects,byond the testing values. Just do a couple of necropsies and everybody is able to understand that. Just look at the kidneys and the liver.

      My biggest hope is that, for a start 1 state ( like Indiana) is gooiing forward, Some trainers will leave the state while others will enter.

      I placed a nice video about the IAAF but that link was removed. The IAAF is bout the same what the Arci is.

      • sabot

        And I will add breeding shed performance of some of these great athletes.
        FBI involvement agreed.

  • Michael Castellano

    It’s hard to take any legislation of this type serious when it ducks the issue of Lasix, which as much as any other drug or stimulant compromises both horses and ethics under the false guise of treating horses that bleed. There is one sentence that confuses me: “Those who want to continue the race-day use of Lasix view Barr-Tonko as an anti-Lasix bill disguised as medication reform.” Disguised? How can preventing race day Lasix use NOT be considered medication reform?

    • Naprovnik Naprovnik

      Rumor has it they are considering a merger of the two bills, which would address raceway Lasix.

      • Michael Castellano

        If there really was a national body, that could ban Lasix in ALL states, more trainers and owners might approve of it. I say might, but if there was no Lasix for all horses everywhere, why would it make a difference? Do some horses respond more to it that others? Does it make some horses run faster than others. This might be the real reason so many oppose a ban.

        • Naprovnik Naprovnik

          I think you can find loads of the debate if you want to research it … bottom line is that it does make a horse lighter and does increase performance. A visiting trainer from Europe recently said, hell, yes his horse was going to race on it here because he wasn’t going to give away an advantage to the American runners. However, the Rest Of The World manages to race horse without its use. Mr. Irwin recently identified it as a crutch which the newer trainers are afraid to do without, and I agree with him. Also, we didn’t have it uniformly legal in this country until the 80s, right? How DID horsemen ever do without it, back in the day?

  • Rachel

    Here’s the Capitol switchboard number: 202-224-3121 They will transfer you to your own Representative’s office. Don’t forget to have the Bill number handy.

  • Charles Smith

    USADA, USADA, USADA. If the bill will put USADA in charge of medications testing and enforcement, I’m all for it. If it’s not, I’m against it.

  • youcantmakeitup

    What I would like to see in this bill also is a national trainer`s test that is required to train. I know there are trainers out there who have or could never pass a real trainer`s test. Nowadays, the only question on the test is ” How many horses do you have? Forty horses? Okay, you have passed the exam. Yes there are some ” no brainer ” questions too that even a novice could get right. If there are going to be “new rules and regulations” make every trainer take a real test and see how many pass. More than just a few will flunk it.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      Good idea!!! When I took the test in MA there were over 300 questions. And there should have been more – trainers should have to know more about horses than they do.

    • LongTimeEconomist

      In other countries, it goes far deeper than that as things such as personal character and financial integrity are factored into getting a trainer’s license.

  • Garrigan

    I support it as long as they ban use of Salix in two year old first time starters.

  • Andrew

    I don’t wager enough to benefit from cheating trainers and I haven’t been playing long enough to know which parties are abusing the system. I do know government–having worked in and around it for more than a decade. I trust the federal government to do very little correctly and this bill will serve as the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. I see a classic case of sincerely interested parties who are simply unwilling to work to change the system from within, so they ask the all-knowing fathers in Washington to intervene. I would love to see Lasix-free racing and a commitment to industry transparency and asking D.C. for legislation may achieve those goals; but over the long-term the industry will answer to new masters who will be just as or more unaccountable than the current ones. If the Coalition wants change, they need to invest the time and money in the hard work it will require to shine a spotlight on abuses and work for change in all racing jurisdictions. Shockingly, if this group really cared about the industry and wanted to make the tough decisions, they are the ones in a position to do it. I know it’s difficult and time consuming and asking for a federal bill will likely achieve results much faster. But what will this deal cost horse racing–not just now, but 50 years from now?

    • JSS

      I agree with Andrew here as well as his analysis. Do we really need the federal government growing?

  • Figless

    Does everyone realize how expensive out of competition testing is for this industry? This is not an Olympic sport with one set meet per week or month. Its a year round sport at hundreds of locations. How will they possibly track all the potential runners and their locations many of which are off track?

  • brussellky

    Maybe I have missed it but from where are the funds going to come from to pay for this new agency?

  • PBS

    I know that something needs to be done, but having the government involved is scarry!

  • nathan rotstein

    AMEN. TOO BAD IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

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