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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