Barr: Racing Has Missed Its Chance To Self-Regulate, Time For Federal Legislation Is Now

by | 05.18.2017 | 5:32pm

Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky) renewed his call for federal legislation to guide medication regulation in horse racing during the Pan American Conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Barr said although medication testing and uniformity isn't the only thing keeping the sport from drawing a sustainable fan base, the often-cited McKinsey report revealed the public does have concerns about equine welfare in racing.

“We recognize that some of racing's challenges are not solely attributable to the lack of uniformity,” Barr said. “There's other challenges: there's competition for that entertainment dollar. We also recognize that eliminating any and all excuses for young Millennials not to become fans in our sport is an important innovation in terms of marketing.”

Barr has been co-chairman of the Horseracing Integrity Act (often also referred to as the Barr-Tonko Bill) which would place responsibility for drug testing in the hands of an independent entity under the non-governmental U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The bill would also create regulations for all states that would be on par with international standards, eliminating the difference in both regulation and testing application between states.

Calls for uniformity in racing and grim warnings about the entrance of a third party to help solve the industry's problems are nothing new. Barr believes racing has been given the chance to initiate its own change, (he acknowledged the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance have done admirable work in this direction). In Barr's view, the sport hasn't done an adequate job.

“I would submit that the inability of the industry to develop its own national uniform rules for the past 36+ years is probably the most persuasive argument for why we need federal legislation today,” said Barr. “At previous Congresses, many well-meaning policy makers tried to reform racing but they haven't been able to do so. I think, despite their best efforts and despite falling short we are not deterred by that and we think that now is a good time to double down on our efforts.”

Barr noted the bill has attracted bipartisan support from 88 Congressmen during the last legislative session and public support from 20 racing industry stakeholders, whose feedback he said is welcome as the legislative effort moves forward. 

Horsemen have both expressed a desire for uniformity and concern about the exact nature of rule reform. Some groups, like the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians, have raised objections to the uniform guidelines provided by the RMTC, citing concerns the rules don't allow enough room for potential sample contamination or account for levels of a drug which lack therapeutic impact.

  • Neal Baker

    Way to go Mr. Barr. Unfortunately I don’t see his proposal going anywhere beyond the starting gate. The horse racing lobby will never get behind it.

    • Figless

      The problem is there are much bigger fish to fry for Congress right now. 88 is a nice number but a long way from passing.

  • Minneola

    “…the often-cited McKinsey report revealed the public does have concerns about equine welfare in racing.” Yes. I keep hearing, those around me, speak about the cruelty and the drugs that those in racing keep inflicting on their horses. It is a public perception and some of this is rooted in the history of this sport. For those who do not know about this, I suggest that they spend a few minutes and do a little research. The public is not a group of “snowflakes” but concerned citizens. Will anything develop to assure the safety and welfare of the horses that entertain us with their beauty as they race around the track or line our pockets with gains from handicapping? I doubt it. Those who can make changes to this sport don’t really care. They just make certain that their own profits are maintained and hope that nothing changes as long as they are alive.

  • Kevin Callinan

    One possible way to get this past the talking stage would be to have the Feds investigate PARX; the recent disqualification of a maiden winner TWICE due to the positive tests of a rabid abuser disgusts everyone. Probably 3/4 of the money bet on these fraudulent winner(s) crossed state lines. PARX abuses the rule that mutuel tickets are only redeemable when the race goes official- Preciado and Vazquez have had at least 20 results altered after the fact. Barr should pass a bill protecting the public. It is easy In this day and age to find electronic bets that were defrauded. Something tells me that if PARX were made to settle the millions in wagers involved they would not be quite so lenient with these habitual cheaters.

    • Figless

      While I agree with the sentiment, the Feds kind of have their hands full right now.

    • Peter Scarnati

      While I agree with your basic premise that bettors are clearly defrauded in the instance of a disqualification of a horse in a pari-mutuel payout position, I tend to disagree on your proposal on how to settle those defrauded wagers.
      In my mind, the funding for such a settlement should come directly from those who are guilty of the fraud — namely the horsemen. While it can be argued the tracks have some form of loose responsibility stemming from the fact they “allowed” the horses of the perpetrators to race at their facility, the fact is the track has no absolute control over the administration of illegal (or above-threshold) substances. That responsibility lies solely with the horsemen. I believe this fact to be indisputable.
      Funding for such a “refund” to the harmed bettors should therefore come from one source and one source only — the purse account. Doing so may be the very best (and, apparently only) way to finally stem the tide of rampant drug abuse in the racing industry. Honest horsemen who are harmed by the cheaters under such a system might finally come around to pressuring their soiled brethren out of the industry.

      • Kevin Callinan

        Simulcasting is the lifeblood of a track like PARX- 53K of the 1.96M bet on PARX Tuesday was on-track. They are extremely motivated to preserve intrastate wagering. To your point, they could certainly increase the fines for repeat offenders.

  • Casey Higgins

    Give me ” clean” racing to the public’s eye. They beauty of the track and building and ladies at keeneland and the smell of fine Kentucky bourbon and racing will never want for anything ever again.

  • gus stewart

    You think just maybe perception medication and marketing are the biggest problem over the last 20 years. Ya think.. and if anyone im the horse racing biz thinks whips,light or soft thin or feathery whatever is plan old and i mean old and hard headed and stupid,, its ridiculous it still is in play. Carry one if they are unruling whipping during a race stupid by percetion means

  • Brent T

    Horses being juiced up is not keeping “millennials” away, please, they(millennials)
    are the ones needing tested. The youngsters of this day and age are VERY BAD and out of control. You need look no further then the college campuses and riots

  • Noval

    “Under our legislation, if you like your horse, you’ll be able to keep your horse. And your costs will go down 25 percent.”

  • Figless

    Why is it the Fed Govt job to cure the industry’s alleged woes? How about sinking and swimming on their own? Did they step in to save Boxing for instance?

    • wmk3400

      Point well taken but let me add to your sentiment. Have the states get out of the way of the industry and treat it like any other business HOWEVER no special tax breaks or subsidies for the horse racing industry and allow entities other than racing concerns open casinos. NOW sink or swim.

  • Dave

    Unfortunately racecourses have become detached from rule making and enforcement since the operational narrative changed with the advent of slot parlors and managements. i.e.- detachment from engaging in medication issues and policies. Rule making policy as such should have a direct connection with marketing and PR. Since lasix application became an incongruent handicapping tool and placed in the daily programs it has become a major detraction to public education. No other major sport has chosen to incorporate drug use by its athletes into its educational process. The legal aspects of wagering should not be the determining factor for the publication of such practices.

  • Barry

    Beware Republicans pushing government intervention- that’s a Democrat’s job.

  • Peter Scarnati

    “I would submit that the inability of the industry to develop its own national uniform rules for the past 36+ years is probably the most persuasive argument for why we need federal legislation today,” said Barr.
    I completely and totally disagree with this premise. Since when is it the responsibility of the inept and feckless federal government to “provide” national uniform rules for the horse racing industry? In fact, this statement shows exactly what is wrong with our federally elected representatives — their completely misguided and narcissistic belief that they can do things better than anyone else. What a croc!!
    As if they would be any better at anything than the states. Besides, who says the horsemen will ever go along with any rules proposed by the USADA?
    Bottom line.. nothing would change.

  • kcbca1

    The time for debate should be over. We should be in the action part of this legislation.

  • Lehane

    With all due respect, I will never be able to understand why America doesn’t have a national racing authority with one set of rules covering every horse, owner, trainer, jockey, etc.
    From my observations, many of the problems America is experiencing are as a result of the non-existence of a national authority.
    Racing Australia protects its industry with one set of rules for all. It would be mayhem if it was left up to the states and its individual racetracks to control racing.
    I sincerely hope America evolves on this issue and totally agree with Andy Barr.

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