Proposed legislation would impose ‘zero tolerance’ on drugs

by | 05.04.2011 | 3:48pm

No one in the Thoroughbred racing industry can say Congressman Ed Whitfield didn't warn them. Whitfield, a nine-term Republican representing Kentucky's First Congressional district, has filed legislation entitled the “Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011” that, as currently proposed, would eliminate the use of any currently permitted therapeutic or illegal, performance-enhancing drugs for racehorses, in addition to imposing stiff penalties for violators, and would impose standards for testing laboratories and guidelines for racing associations and racing commissions. The Federal Trade Commission would be the federal regulatory agency with oversight, if the bill becomes law.

The bill, as written, would not allow even trace amounts of any medication in a racehorse on the day of a race. That would make U.S. medication regulations the most stringent of any racing nation, most of which have threshold testing levels for specific therapeutic drugs.

Another Kentucky Congressman, Democrat Ben Chandler, was among the co-sponsors of the House bill. A companion bill in the Senate was introduced by Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico.


 Click here for the text of the House bill.

Whitfield has been calling for federal regulation of racing medication rules since at least 2008, when a Congressional hearing looked into various issues, including the use of anabolic steroids (since banned by state regulators) in racehorses, including that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Big Brown, and the death of Eight Belles, who finished second in the Derby behind Big Brown. 


Shortly after those June 2008 hearings, Whitfield wrote a guest commentary in the Paulick Report, citing many of the same reasons for federal regulations he mentioned today in a teleconference with reporters to discuss the proposed legislation. (Click here for the 2008 guest commentary.)

Whitfield said he has concerns, based on the beliefs of “various owners and breeders” that drug use has become “rampant” in the U.S. and is now a safety issue for horses and riders. Secondly, he said, the individuals he has spoken with are concerned that permissive medication regulations have weakened the Thoroughbred breed. Whitfield said he believes the U.S. is out of step with other racing countries on medication policies, and that there is no single authority in the U.S. empowered to make changes, including the Association of Racing Commissioners International or the The Jockey Club. Finally, Whitfield said, there appears to be no stigma attached to trainers who are penalized for medication violations and then are named “outstanding trainers of the year.”




The decision to propose the legislation was made “for all of those reasons and the impact on the industry,” Whitfield said, “not to mention the consumer protection part – the betting public really do not know what horse does or does not have in it.”

The House committee on Energy and Commerce, of which Whitfield is a member, would have jurisdiction, through a subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Trade, Whitfield said. He is uncertain when any hearings would take place, but said any affected parties, including veterinarians and horsemen, would have opportunities to testify on whether threshold levels of specific medications should be established, as other countries have done.

“We understand that this is a complex issue,” said Whitfield. “The purpose of the hearings would be to address these kinds of issues. The overall objective is to get away from rampant drugs being used today. Everyone understands horses like professional athletes are injured, have pains, and sometime you have to do things to assist them. Sometimes there are residual levels left on race day.

“The purpose of the legislation is to get rid of drugs on race day. Right now there is not any one entity that has the authority to do that.”

Whitfield said some consideration was given to using the legislation to create a federal authority to oversee racing. “We did consider that,” he said, “but trying to establish some new entity I don't really think is realistic right now (given the challenges of the federal deficit). The more we thought about it, we decided we've got the Federal Trade Commission.”

Industry reaction was mixed.  A letter of support was distributed by Arthur B. Hancock and wife Staci of Stone Farm in Kentucky, and signed by George Strawbridge of Augustin Stables and Lael Stables' Roy and Gretchen Jackson.

Two horsemen's groups, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, already have come out in opposition to an RCI proposed phase out over the next five years for the race day use of anti-bleeder medication furosemide.

The NHBPA declined comment on the proposed legislation, but THA chairman Alan Foreman said, “The THA will vigorously oppose the Whitfield-Udall legislation. We categorically reject the characterization of our industry and the assault on the integrity of the tens of thousands of people who work in racing and whose primary responsibility is the welfare of the horse. This legislation, if enacted, would cripple our industry without reason. Federal intervention in our sport is neither necessary nor warranted.  We intend to vigorously defend our sport, it's integrity, our system of deterrence and our medication rules and policies.”

James Gagliano, president and CEO of The Jockey Club, said: “We respectfully decline comment on the legislation in question until we have had a chance to review it.
 
“The Jockey Club does share the belief that performance-enhancing medication has no place in Thoroughbred racing. As we said in our April 28 statement, The Jockey Club stands convinced that the elimination of race-day medication is essential to achieving optimal stewardship of the horse, the sport, the public perception and confidence, and the business of Thoroughbred racing.
 
“Gambling in the U.S. has long been regulated under the province of the states and, in point of fact, racing is the most regulated of sports. Through this structure, we have made great progress in many areas over the last few years in reforming our medication policies. There is more to be done in this regard, in particular revisiting race-day medication policies, and we are encouraged by recent calls in support of this position – including from the association of state regulators themselves. We believe this industry has the wherewithal to begin a phase-in of these policies within a year.
 
“We further acknowledge, however, it is the federal government that regulates interstate activities in our country. And, as a $40 billion business employing about 400,000 individuals across many states, it is undeniable that we are an interstate activity.
 
“We look forward to speaking to anyone interested in promoting medication reform.”

Ed Martin, president of RCI, said:  “There are portions of this initiative that parallel proposals that have been made by RCI Chairman Willie Koester, particularly with regard to race day administration of furosemide.   The sponsors appear to propose a replication of the Canadian system where the federal government sets and enforces medication policy and the provincial racing commissions are responsible for licensure of individuals and tracks, race day assignment, investigations, and adjudication.   RCI believes that the creation of a National Racing Commission in the U.S. through the interstate compact mechanism is a preferable alternative so as to avoid redundancy, confusion, and additional costs that would undoubtedly be associated with the creation of another layer of regulation.”

Said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which has not taken a position on the RCI proposal: “We strongly disagree with the overall characterization of our sport by the authors of the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act. Horseracing continues to outpace other sports in its drug and medication policies. The winner of every race is subject to drug testing at every track, every day in the United States. Non-winning horses are also subject to random drug testing. The fact is that less than one half of one percent of the more than 100,000 tests resulted in a positive for illegal drugs or overages of therapeutic medications in 2010. Our industry is committed to catching and punishing cheaters.
 
“The horse industry, together with capable and committed state regulatory authorities, equine veterinarians and others, is now engaged in a far reaching dialogue over legal, therapeutic, race-day medications. Preserving the welfare of our athletes and the integrity of our competition will always be our foremost goals.”

Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, which represents the horse industry in Washington, D.C., said: “The industry is back on the federal radar screen with the introduction of this bill.  This legislation must be taken seriously.  We should be concerned about federal involvement in our industry and the mischief that can flow from it.  The last thing we want is a federal agency dictating how we conduct our business, particularly on such a complicated issue.  The industry has made great strides in the last five years in safety and welfare and must continue to do so.”

Said Reynolds Bell, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association:  “The public perception of Thoroughbred racing and the health of our equine athletes are of utmost concern to TOBA.  However, due to public demand and the desire to standardize worldwide polices, it is now time for our sport to openly and honestly deal with the use of therapeutic race-day medication.  TOBA supports the elimination of race-day medication.  Although horseracing in this country is the most regulated sport with the most extensive drug testing program and medication policies, our customers are telling us to address this issue.   

“Progress has been made in reforming our medication policies in recent years to improve the integrity of the sport.  TOBA has supported these reforms not only through the endorsement of our organization, but also by the actions of the the American Graded Stakes Committee.  A number of leading industry stakeholders have commenced efforts to address the policy and scientific issues around race-day medication.  We believe this effort should be given the opportunity to demonstrate once again our sport's commitment to the goals of increased integrity, safety and consumer confidence. However, if we are unable to accomplish this objective in a short and defined period of time, perhaps a bill from the federal government is the step that should be considered for the improvement and future of our sport.”

Amercan Associated of Equine Practitioners president Williams Moyers issued the following statement: “As doctors of veterinary medicine, our primary focus when evaluating the proposed Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act is its effect on the health and safety of the racehorse. The American Association of Equine Practitioners supports the responsible use and regulation of valid therapeutic medications in horse racing. We also support the concept of a national uniform medication policy.

“Racehorses currently compete in a heavily regulated environment with very clear distinctions between illegal drugs and valid medications that provide therapeutic benefit. The very broad language of the bill could eliminate, as written, beneficial treatment of active equine athletes at any time – not just on the day of competition. We urge Congress to work with the horse racing industry to learn more about the health care implications of this bill as it is written and stand ready to assist in that process.”

  • BIN WAIT N FORE IT!!!…THANK U MR. WHITFIELD & ALL INVOLVED…

  • Joe

    Pro-drugs, pro-slaughter Waldrop/NTRA and Hickey/AHC, a match made in horse hell.

    So the NTRA is capable of strongly disagreeing about something. I wish it could have strongly disagreed about the barbaric slaughter of highly toxic Thoroughbreds including for humane consumption instead of strongly disagreeing about the racing of drugged race horses and the destruction that brings.

    I have no faith in our government running things properly but racing and horse industry “leaders” are just as dysfunctional. Waldrop, Hickey, Foreman, AAEP, the JC and all alphabet soup organizations saw it coming but were too myopic, arrogant and greedy to clean-up “the game” before the government does it for them. Tough!

  • Indulto

    Howlongya Bin Waitin #1,
    Now that we’re no longer lookin for Laden, we can reassign Marlin Brando style “regulators” to horse racing and rid ourselves of “horse cheats” just the way his character did “horse thieves” in the Missouri Breaks.

  • luke

    NTRA, NHBPA and other naysayers be damned. Solutions to horse racing’s advanced demise are right in front of your eyes. Right will win out over wrong based on the merits of the good intentions. Change is upon us and the time is now.

  • luke

    Interesting as the industry trades cover, or don’t cover the situation. Earler today the Thoroughbred Times had an article “Industry leaders support federal action,” featuring the letter signed by Strawbridge, Jacksons and Hancocks. Now, the same article in TTimes is entitled “Some prominent breeders support federal action.” Why did TTimes feel the need to tone down the involvement of the aforementioned individuals who are indeed prominent breeders, but also large stables racing horses nationally? Who owns and operates TTimes, and who might have adjusted this publication’s spin on today’s events? There are cruel operatives and charachters in this game. Good thing the feds are in sync with our weakest most nefarious links.

  • Bell Roman

    Does not surprize me that the NHBPA has come out against this. In my state the HBPA will not even try to be a part of cracking down on the abusers, in fact, they go to great lengths to defend them in hearings, trying to find loopholes or providing legal counsel. When I asked why this was the policy I was told “They are our members, we have to represent them.” A cheat is a cheat and needs to be suspended or better yet banned for life.

  • voice of reason

    I long for the days of $15 dollar fines for the sports worst cheats.

  • Foreman the Doorman

    Alan Foreman needs to wake up and smell the coffee or perhaps the horse manure. What does this guy not get about the perception of his sport? It’s time for the National HBPA to issue some press release about how racehorses are tested for more drugs than olympic athletes. Our leaders at the horseman level really are not very bright.

  • Ted in Toledo

    Meanwhile back at the ranch, California trainer John Sadfler is opposed to a CHRB proposal that would nullify a claim on a horse that suffers a catastrophic breakdown. The CHRB is trying to prevent unscrupulous trainers from putting unsound horses in races to unload them.

    In a matter of a few months, horse trainers have gone from respected to untrustworthy. Pletcher, Dutrow, Sadler, Baffert, Hollendorfer: YOU GUYS ARE RUINING OUR SPORT! GO AWAY!

  • caroline

    Ted in Toledo, I completely support the voiding of claims of horses that die on the track; the problem I think with any such proposal is the grey area on horses found to be unsound after the race. Pretty sure that is part of the proposal. Need to check. The CHRB tried a couple of years ago to introduce something like this and backtracked because of concerns on this issue I believe. Have to compare the two proposals and see if this one is tighter.

  • BIN WAIT N TEN YEARS TOO #3…TIME TO KICK A$$ & TAKE NAMES…CHANGE IS N THE AIR WETHER THE ALAN FOREMAN$/ALEX BALLDROP$ OF THE WORLD LIKE IT R KNOT…EXPOSURE…EXPOSURE…EXPOSURE…TY MR. WHITFIELD & NBC FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS!!!…LONG LIVE THE HORSE BABY!!!…ty…

  • ps…& A HUGE TY FORE “THE PR”…RAY…

  • Tony veto caminetti

    Th only ppl who know less than the ppl stuffing this through are the retards who post here about how bad raceday meds are.

  • Bute Lasix Dex Kentucky Red Steroids Equiox Epogen

    Many horses are running everyday with the medications in this name.

    Tony, nice talk calling people retarded

  • Special Ed

    This is a bunch of hot air to get attention at Derby Time. You people (tards) are just feeding in to it. How about save the sport and get positive stories out this week. There will be millions of non regular fans paying attention to racing this week because of the Derby. This is not the week to talk of its ills. There is a time and place to discuss this and this is definitely not the time. Ray you should think of this real hard this week. What job do you have when racing is gone?

  • Special Ed

    Not against the legislation or reform. Just not now.

  • Bute Lasix Dex Kentucky Red Steroids Equiox Epogen

    Ray will be retired.

  • DOUGIE

    THEIR ARE SO MANY PROBLEMS THAT COULD BE FIXED BEFORE A ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY IS NECCESARY.

  • Ray Paulick

    Special Ed-

    Of the various possible solutions to this challenge, I think ignoring is probably not the most intelligent path to take.

  • Ted in Toledo

    To those who say “Meds are OK for horses”, consider this: Since medication started escalating in the 1970’s, horses today are averaging about HALF as many starts per year as their 1970’s predecessors. If owners try to beat the game, wouldn’t you have a better chance if your horse was running more often? All these medications COST real money, further making it harder to beat the game. Horses in other parts of the world such as Europe and Austrailia don’t have the “Chemical Warfare” that is going on in this country. And they get more starts in, some horses in Austrailia start as soon as a week after their previous race. Horses who start less often make filling races much harder, leading to shorter fields, leading to dissapation of betting dollars and fans not coming back.

    And since it’s DERBY time, when was the last time we had a Triple Crown Winner? The 1970’s, of course! Why, isn’t that when the drugs started coming out? So if some of you say “Meds are good for horses”, why have we had no Triple Crown Winner? Shouldn’t the meds have helped? LET’S FACE IT, TODAY’S HORSES AREN’T STRONG ENOUGH TO WITHSTAND A GRUELLING TRIPLE CROWN SERIES!

  • William Webb

    Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to fall in line with the rest of the racing world and that time is now…..scrape off the slime and race clean.

  • Andrew A

    Ray, the “Special Ed” line given the tone of some of the comments is about as good as it gets and almost knocked me off my chair laughing.

    Having said that now we can go back to disagreeing on just about everything. LOL

  • Trappeddownontherail

    Bring it on!

    In Foreman and the HBPA you have an example of the folks who brought us to this pretty pass. Does anyone really believe that the Legislators were wrong to say that drug use is ‘rampant’?

    What I read into the alphabets’ statements are that they are scared they will lose their moneyed positions and their power to the Feds – and that’s what really worries them!

  • Pepe Le Pew

    Ted from Toledo: do you really think racing was drug free back then? Get around the track and hear the stories. I was told Affirmed was on lasix. Steroids were uses, stimulants. It wasn’t what you think it was. There are lots of differences. One the testing is different now and there was a lot they couldn’t test for back then. And you didn’t read about it every day in the paper because there were not the degenerate turf writers that we have today. And as for the rest of the world. Do you know how many products are dispensed through out the back side with foreign labels? Most of the illegal non testing items come from there because they don’t have the FDA and it is simple to obtain and you know it passes the testing if they use it there. The regulation will just open up for non testing drugs to be rampant. It will not go away it will be worse.

  • ratherrapid

    Migh check out Ross Staaden’s book “winning trainers”. browse the section on T.J. Smith(leading Aussie trainer 30+ years in a row) and his vet who established a company named Ranvet in one of T.J. Smith’s barns that manufactured various concoctions to enhance performance, control bleeding, etc.

  • Ted in Toledo

    PEPE, i FAIL to get your point. If the horses in the 70’s were the first generation, then that says it all right there. As they became studs and broodmares, they produced “Crack Foals”. And 40 years later, the top horses start 5 times a year. By saying “It was around in the ’70’s, I’m not sure if you are for a medication ban or against it. I worked in the harness racing industry as a groom about 20 years ago. I remember the “VET” sticking a needle into my horse. The docile gelding suddenly started acting like he was a stud again, biting at me and jumping around. I’m sure they got better stuff and more undetectable stuff these days.

    WE MAKE TRAINERS LIKE ASSMUSSEN AND PLETCHER “TRAINIERS OF THE YEAR”. I THINK ASSMUSSEN HOLDS THE WORLD RECORD FOR DRUG VIOLATIONS. INSTEAD OF NOMINATING ANY OF THIS GENERATION OF TRAINERS TO THE HALL OF FAME, SHOULDN’T WE, INSTEAD, NOMINATE THIER VETERNARIANS?

  • ratherrapid

    Ted: Q for u. do you consider every “drug violation” the same, or do you distinguish the drug used and then comment on that drug? e.g. is there a difference between elephant juice and an aspirin? and then, have you looked at Asmussen’s record, as an e.g., and distinguished the particular drug violations by identifying the drugs, reasons for their use, etc.

  • Ted in Toledo

    One thing we all have to remember here: Americans are animal lovers. Despite New York’s dysfunctional state government, New York is one of the toughest state to get a drug violation, and they monitor cheaters better than any other state. And I believe that comes from the love of the animal.

    When all these aligations get out to the public, it’s only another nail in the coffin. Baseball and other sports have drug and steroid problems but those sports will survive because of one basic point. Proffessional athletes “CHOOSE” to inject themselves. Race horses have no say so.

    If we don’t start cleaning up our act, orginizations like PETA and others will get us. The momentum is on their side and the walls are closing in.

  • Ted in Toledo

    ratherrapid, I’m going to say this with all the conviction of being there. I know there are drugs that trainers use that are undetectable. And when they become detectable, trainers move onto other stuff. You guys that use the “Please explain a drug violation, and how does that apply to the almighty Assmussen?”, all that junk speak is done by somebody who doesn’t give a damn about the horses or the sport.

    It’s obvious by the responses made by FANS, RACING OFFICIALS, SOME TRAINERS AND OWNERS (and the trainers and owners should know what’s going on) that there are much problems. There’s anger out there. “Please explain a drug violation” doesn’t recognize it.

  • Pepe Le Pew

    I agree with you on the “crack foals”. I am more concerned with people acting like there were no medications or drug use back in the 70’s or today in europe. It was rampant and is rampant. Again go see where all the undetectable medications come from? ….All the No medication countries.

  • ratherrapid

    Horse racing, presumably through NTRA, if we had one, should get with the animal rights orgs., and if they dislike PETA then the newly active Humane Society, and establish a joint horse care policy. How innovative would that be? Ted while I sort of get the drift I disagree on several things. I think the “anger” is restricted a a few paranoids. If there’s any anger with the general public I think that involves breakdowns, which is a different Q. Secondly I’d ask in fairness–how can you as a former groom fails to distinguish between a jay walking violation and a felony. Is there a difference between deliberately hopping a horse, and in good faith administering therapeutic meds to keep the horse racing instead of having a quick pass to the slaughterhouse?

  • TY…AGAIN RAY…

  • TY #23…AMEN TO THAT ONE…FOREMAN & BALLDROP!!!…

  • THEY USE “THE JUICE” ALL OVER THE PLANET…GIVE ME A BREAK…

  • steve w

    It’s this simple-if the legislation goes through and the Pletchers/Assmusens/o’Neills/etc/etc become ordinary trainers than we know racing has been fixed for many years-if they keep winning at the same clip than all of us who believe that the Sport of Kings is fixed will eat crow-I give it 1000 to 1 odds I’ll be eating crow-but I’ve been wrong many times.

  • Marianne

    Go to TDN, print page 12 and email or fax if you agree to a zero policy

  • Doublesecretprobation

    I hope this is not a “Be careful what you wish for” situation? The Feds always seem to have the reverse midas touch.

  • just interested

    This bill will never get out of committee. Just a political publicity stunt on Derby week.

  • Ted in Toledo

    What about the bettors? They fuel the whole sport. After the fact, Dutrow admitted he gave Big Brown steroids before the Ky Derby and the Preakness (not illegal at the time). But he said Big Brown didn’t get steroids before the Belmont. Even though Dutrow didn’t break the law in this case, shouldn’t the bettors have the right to know these facts? Did you see a performance switch in Big Brown’s Belmont? Things like just drive away bettors bettin their hard-earned money. Trainers take the bettors for granted. In the Daily Racing Form’s weekend insert in the Q&A section, SoCal trainer Mel Stute admits working a horse in the darkness, telling the owner “He can bet”, then sending money down to Tijuana, Mexico race book so the bet won’t effect the track odds. How many bettors did we lose the day that article came out?

  • Mysti

    If these said ¨horse racing leaders¨ of ours oppose this bill, and it doesn´t pass, then the horse racing industry will lose many, many fans, and therefore, will in turn, lose the very money that supports them… I for one don´t want the government involved, either, but the horse racing industry has been operating in the most dysfunctional manner for far too long.

  • Federal Trade Commission…..give me a break.

  • jock4hire

    If they’d just enforce these penalties they’ve proposed, I think that’d pretty much have solved the problems since the 70’s. But the fines and suspensions for drug infractions have been little more than a slap on the wrist,…! Our industry needs help!! I’d love to see drug free racing across America!!

  • JAIL TIME/LIFE TIME BANS/HEAVY A$$ FINE$…WILL HELP CURE THE BLUES…GET BUSY!!!…ty…

  • TrueAmerican

    I vote yes for no drugs through the starting gate…

  • LetItRideMike

    Can we please stop with the “What about the bettors?” crap, Ted? You’ll be in line with 4000 other mopes in a sports book waiting to bet the NFL who doesnt give you the same information you expect horseman to give you. What a bunch of hooey. I am all for reforming our med situation, but this cure is alot worst than the disease.

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