The Water Hay Oats Alliance has released a letter – signed by 64 current and retired trainers – endorsing the Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651) introduced in the U.S. Congress last year by Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY).
The bill would establish a non-governmental, non-profit agency to oversee medication policy and enforcement in horse racing throughout the United States. Known as the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority (HADA), the agency would fall under the auspices of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), a proven leader in the anti-doping movement in human sports.
One element of the bill would prohibit race-day medication, putting the U.S. in alignment with international standards. Currently all U.S. racing jurisdictions permit the race-day use of the diuretic furosemide (Lasix), an anti-bleeder medication given to the overwhelming majority of runners whether or not they have experienced exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
The inclusion of the “no Lasix” clause in the legislation is a deal breaker for some trainers I've talked to about H.R. 2651. Yet just over three years ago, a group of 25 trainers, including some of the most prominent names in the game, signed a letter proposing phasing out of furosemide beginning in 2015.
That, of course, never happened.
The vast majority of trainers who signed that August 2014 letter are not among those listed below as supporters of WHOA and H.R. 2651.
Perhaps they've had a change of heart. Or maybe they haven't studied the legislation carefully enough to see that establishment of a national, non-governmental agency to oversee medication policy could be in their best interest.
The bill has the support of some major constituency groups, including nearly 1,600 WHOA members. Frank Stronach and the The Stronach Group – owner of Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park and the Maryland Jockey Club tracks – support H.R. 2651. So does the Breeders' Cup, Jockey Club, Keeneland, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, New York Racing Association and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, among others in the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.
Missing from this list is Churchill Downs Inc., owner of several racetracks including its flagship in Louisville, Ky., home of the Kentucky Derby.
Louisville is also home of Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. Nothing will get through the Senate without McConnell's blessing. While it has 106 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, the Horseracing Integrity Act does not yet have a Senate sponsor. It is widely believed that McConnell would support the bill if Churchill Downs came out in favor of it.
Why Churchill Downs Inc. doesn't support H.R. 2651 is something of a mystery. The CDI board chairman is G. Watts Humphrey Jr., a longtime Jockey Club member and former steward of that organization who served closely with current Jockey Club chairman Stuart S. Janney III, a staunch advocate of the Horseracing Integrity Act. Humphrey's breeding and racing operation epitomizes the best attributes of the sport, but he's been around long enough and seen enough to understand that the current state-by-state regulatory structure is dysfunctional and ineffectual.
R. Alex Rankin, the vice chairman of CDI's board of directors, is a Kentucky owner and breeder and member of The Jockey Club who has served on multiple industry organization boards and was president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. He surely sees the shortcomings of the status quo and the benefits of bringing U.S. racing in alignment with the rest of the world on medication and establishing national rules and oversight.
Yet efforts by proponents of the Horseracing Integrity Act to bring CDI on-board as a supporter have failed.
Sources point to the company's chief executive officer, William Carstanjen, as the stumbling block. Some who have spoken to Carstanjen about the legislation said he is a cycling enthusiast who believes Lance Armstrong – the blood-doping cheater who was stripped of seven Tour de France titles – was treated unfairly by Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA. Tygart led the investigation that resulted in Armstrong's downfall.
Mike Ziegler, the executive director of racing for CDI, did not respond to an inquiry about the company's position on H.R. 2651, but sources have said CDI instead supports the formation of yet another voluntary and toothless industry group to tackle integrity. We already have countless alphabet soup organizations who have tried and failed to do so effectively.
Maybe Carstanjen is less concerned with how Lance Armstrong was treated and more worried about his prized property, the Kentucky Derby. He saw the effect that Lance Armstrong and widespread doping had on the image and popularity of the Tour de France and cycling in general. It took a hit and then it recovered. A similar scandal in horse racing in the short run would not be good for the Kentucky Derby, which generates massive revenue for CDI, a publicly traded company. Carstanjen might fear an agency that could adopt more stringent out-of-competition drug testing or take a more investigative approach on anti-doping policy.
But whether or not a new paradigm for medication and anti-doping regulation uncovers a scandal, the creation of an independent, non-profit, non-governmental agency to set and enforce medication policy on a national basis will be good for the sport in the long run.
Just ask the trainers who signed the following letter:
WHOA Trainers Support the Horseracing Integrity Act
“As trainers of horses we love, in a sport to which we have devoted our lives, we have taken a stand for clean racing by joining the Water Hay Oats Alliance. We are deeply concerned about the integrity of our sport, and are aware of the fact that without public support for horseracing, our sport will continue to lose enthusiasts as our fans support other sports where performance-enhancing drugs are banned. Each negative story in the news hurts us all.
“We support clean sport and feel the best way to achieve a level playing field is to endorse the Horseracing Integrity Act that is now before congress. This federal legislation will give the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) the authority to create and manage one independent agency with one national policy that will bind all participants under one set of rules with one set of testing procedures and one set of penalties. This bill will create a path to uniformity in medication practices and policies throughout American racing, and it will bring all 38 racing jurisdictions together under one umbrella and, importantly, in alignment with international standards.
“Passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act will help revitalize the horse racing industry and will protect horses and jockeys from those individuals who would seek to win races at any cost. We encourage like-minded colleagues to join us and to add their voices to the clamor for change by simply including their names on WHOA's roster. Support of WHOA's efforts will send a message to our fans and our legislators that clean sport is important to our industry.
“Our sport has been faced with the issue of medication reform for decades. Unified and determined, we stand together to solve this problem once and for all for the future of American racing. Join us.”
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