‘Much At Stake’: Congressman To Introduce Anti-Doping Act For Horse Racing

by | 05.29.2015 | 10:35am
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) will introduce a bill giving the anti-doping agency USADA oversight of drugs and medication in racing

Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), who serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Horse Caucus and represents New York's 20th Congressional District, today announced plans to introduce the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Anti-Doping Act of 2015 to establish uniform standards for drugs and medication in the American Thoroughbred industry.

“While the nation's sporting spotlight will be on American Pharoah and Belmont Park in the coming days, the Thoroughbred industry is a year-round enterprise – responsible for a large number of quality jobs and economic growth not only in New York's Capital Region, but throughout the country,” Tonko said.  “The racing industry has taken significant steps toward medication reform in the past several years, and this legislation will build on that progress by providing a uniform, national solution that sets the highest standards of independence, fairness and integrity – ensuring the future health of the sport and protecting thousands of jobs across the country.”

Medication in the Thoroughbred industry is currently regulated on state-by-state basis, creating a patchwork of rules and uncertainty for industry members and fans alike and a wide disparity in testing effectiveness and enforcement.  The planned legislation would grant independent authority over rule‑making, testing and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to an entity created by the non-profit, non‑governmental U.S. Anti‑Doping Agency (USADA).


This legislation will not create an ongoing role for the federal government in horse racing or use taxpayer dollars to fund the program.  The funds necessary for the establishment and administration of the horse racing anti-doping program would be paid entirely by the industry, at zero cost to the taxpayer.

“A single, national approach to medication and drug testing with strong independent oversight and enforcement is long overdue and will help ensure the industry's long-term viability, including enhancing the care and welfare of horses,” Tonko said.

The Congressman commended groups from inside and outside the Thoroughbred industry that have come together to form the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity in an effort to advance better medication rules and seek national uniform standards. The coalition is made up of:

  • Two major Thoroughbred racing organizations – Breeders' Cup Ltd., and The Jockey Club
  • An animal welfare group – The Humane Society of the United States
  • And the grassroots organization Water Hay Oats Alliance, which is 1,000 members strong

According to Rep. Tonko, “There is much at stake, with the Thoroughbred industry contributing $25 billion to the U.S. economy annually and nearly 400,000 jobs, including many in the Saratoga Springs area that I represent.

“I plan to introduce this legislation in the coming weeks, and encourage all members of the House who care about horse racing's future, as well as the importance of clean competition, to join me as co‑sponsors of this critically important legislation.”

Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, issued the following statement in response to Rep. Tonko's plans:

“The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency applauds Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) for committing his time and energy to help create a uniform, independent, and meaningful anti-doping program for Thoroughbred horse racing through the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Anti-Doping Act of 2015. Along with the Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup, WHOA, the Humane Society, and others in the industry, USADA supports this piece of legislation. It is our hope that the model of independence, harmonization, and enforcement of robust anti-doping programs envisioned through this legislation can be realized to finally truly protect the health of the athletes and the integrity of the competition.”

The Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) issued a statement as well:

The Water Hay Oats Alliance, a grass roots movement of more than 1,100 owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, track operators, industry professionals, equine practitioners, handicappers and racing fans, announced today after polling its founding and supporting members that it will join the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.  The Coalition is a diverse group of horseracing and animal welfare organizations formed to support legislation that would grant independent authority to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to oversee rule making, testing and enforcement regarding drugs in Thoroughbred horseracing.

Founded in 2012, The Water Hay Oats Alliance has as its clear mission the elimination of drugs on race day. Without federal legislation enacted to mandate “clean” drug rules, reliable testing, qualified labs and strict penalties for violators, the sport of American horseracing faces an uncertain future. With support and passage of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Act of 2015, the sport can rebuild its reputation, help to protect its beloved horses and their jockeys from catastrophic injury, and reclaim racing's rightful place as one of the nation's top spectator sports.

The prospective legislation would authorize USADA to develop and administer a nationwide anti-doping program beginning January 1, 2017, following input from the Thoroughbred industry and the public. This will create a gold standard for anti-doping programs in America, with standardized testing, accredited labs and uniform enforcement policies.   USADA will bring all 38 racing jurisdictions under one umbrella and, at long last, in sync with international standards.

Currently, racing operates under different policies from state to state, making competition a patchwork of varied rules and regulations.  Federal regulation is needed to appoint an outside, independent agency to bring about uniformity in rules, testing and enforcement.

“WHOA commends Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) for announcing his intent to introduce this important legislation,” said spokeswoman Staci Hancock. “And we call on all of our supporters to contact their member of Congress and ask them to serve as co-sponsors.”

Keeneland issued the following statement:

Keeneland's mission since our inception has been dedicated solely to our industry and community with a commitment to growing an exciting sport and showcasing exceptional equine and human athletes. Whether through advancements in pari-mutuel wagering, equine safety measures, jockey welfare or more global initiatives on medication issues, Keeneland has sought and led the charge on measures that protect our horses and the integrity of our sport.

Medication has been at the forefront of discussions in our industry for some time. Our collective response to these issues must be to pledge that we provide for the health and welfare of our athletes and assure the wagering public and all of our fans that every facet of our sport is conducted with the highest level of integrity and is subject to a heightened level of scrutiny.

To that end, the following must be guiding and foundation principles for us to grow our sport domestically and globally:

1. National uniform rules that include the same list of prohibited and permitted substances and methods in every jurisdiction.
2. Uniform testing procedures and protocols, including out-of-competition testing.
3. Uniform standards and accreditation of labs.
4. Uniform set of penalties that are administered in a timely manner.
5. Uniform and fair investigations and prosecutions.
6. All of these must be performed with appropriate rigor to achieve the goal of a level playing field for all participants and the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs in Thoroughbred racing.

Significant progress has been made by thoughtful individuals and organizations, but many argue it has not been fast enough and we are losing participants because of that pace. Although not currently a member of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, Keeneland is committed to achieving these initiatives vital to the growth and success of our industry, and we urge other race tracks and horsemen to constructively work with the Coalition and other industry leaders with a sense of urgency. We will achieve uniformity with integrity only through constructive dialogue and coordinated action.

We appreciate all who are passionately working to advance these guiding principles for all the right reasons and look forward to the continued process to achieve these crucial objectives.

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association issued this statement:

The National HBPA on behalf of its affiliates and 30,000 members would like to address the announcement made by Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) May 29th, 2015. We are the largest horsemen's group in North America and we have long been supporters of national uniformity in medication policies. However, we are opposed to any legislation that interferes with the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 (IHA).

The announcement by Rep. Tonko says this proposed legislation “does not eliminate or modify any of the consents, agreements or approvals required” with respect to the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 (IHA). However, the release also goes on to say that the new governing body, THADO, will have control of “the privilege to accept, receive or transmit wagers on Covered Horseraces.” It is well understood that horsemen groups, in a working relationship with racetracks, have a veto right by law, under the IHA to designate who transmits a signal from a given racetrack. We will look to Congressman Tonko for clarification of this announcement, as this seems to contradict itself with regards to current law within the IHA.

With that said, all horsemen represented by The National HBPA along with others within the racing industry, will come together to ensure the industry's largest group, is heard in Washington. This announcement by Congressman Tonko (D-NY) and his proposed legislation do not have the support of the racing industry's majority voice, the horsemen.

  • David Juffet

    It’s about time.

  • Racing Fan

    Long overdue. Very welcome news. Please push this through ASAP.

  • Racing Fan

    Get ready for the THA and HBPA responses.. “Horse racing tests for more drugs than the Olympics…” “Horse racing has a 0.000001% positive drug test rates…” blah blah blah. All are misleading and inaccurate portrayals of the problems in racing.

    • naprovniknaprovnik

      Those idiots just want to put their heads in the sand and pretend that everything is going to stay the same. And that is why Washington is stepping in – because racing has refused to clean itself up.

      • Bubba

        now who is going to clean up Washington? They can definitely help us, but they need more help than we do.

        • naprovniknaprovnik

          They are owned by many of the same people who own racing stables: but a Congressman and buy a TB… The Congressman is probably cheaper!

      • lastromantribune

        because racing has refused to clean itself up , true reap what you sow

  • David Worley

    Great news; am happy to see national coherence on regs and the USADA involved.

    • Peyton

      You are not seeing anything that resembles national coherence unless you have rose colored glasses on. iMHO

  • RoadApple

    Good news, bad news. Good news, it’s needed. Bad news HSUS involved. They are as bad as PETA. Just ask Ringling Brothers. Remove HSUS and the bad news aspect is mitigated.

    • naprovniknaprovnik

      Yes, heaven forbid we never see another elephant” act”.

    • Peyton

      Obviously, you don’t get it. If you think PETA or HSUS are against helping racing, you are mistaken. It needs their help and any other organization which can provide constructive input. Horses are being drugged and if these organizations can help slow that down, I am all for it. If you think drugged horses is an anomaly, you just are not well informed about the state of the industry today.

      • eshever

        PETA and HSUS do not support the use of animals for entertainment purposes and that would include horse racing. They may play along while it suits them but at the end of the day, they will only use racing as a way to raise money for themselves and undermine the sport.

        • Keyne

          “Peta and HSUS do not support the use of animals for entertainment purposes”….yet they have no problem with Vin Disiel movies,Hmmmm….

          • eshever

            LOL Are you calling Mr. Diesel an animal?

        • Convene

          PETA does not support the use of animals for anything, including being cherished companions.

          • eshever

            There’s a popular saying that HSUS is just PETA in a suit and tie. They have the same goals to end animal use. PETA uses stunts and HSUS uses legislation and lawsuits.

  • Noelle

    My congressman will co-sponsor, I’m sure, but he’s co-sponsored lots of pro-horse legislation that goes nowhere. Uniform medication is so logical and strongly supported by many interested parties – including racing’s fans – maybe it will actually happen, despite those who keep trotting out their tired old objections. Hope so.

    • Peyton

      I suggest that uniform medication is not the issue. Enforcement of existing med regulations is far more the issue. The logic behind thinking that UNIFORM medication will fix racing is akin to thinking that if all states had the same speed limit then there would be fewer speeding violations. Speeding is speeding and drugging is drugging.

      • Horse Guy

        I agree. But only the Feds can make each and every state rule on their infractions and do it timely. Uniformity isn’t the issue, enforcement is. Caught in Florida should mean caught everywhere, not let’s wait and see if they beat the rap.

  • Ben van den Brink

    Maybe cleaning up the sport is gooiing to get a meaning. Regulation means just more tresholds in the US.

  • Tinky

    Breeders’ Cup Ltd.? The same Breeders’ Cup Ltd. that has as its motto: “Santa Anita every year and Lasix 4evah” ?

    Just checking.

    • Racing fan

      Yeah exactly. Shame on the Breeders Cup they are the ultimate cowards and the reason I don’t participate in playing their 2 day joke of a festival with drugs a plenty.

    • naprovniknaprovnik

      Hey – they TRIED to establish non-Lasix for two year olds and Repole and the Wests pitched a hissy fit and brought a law suit. Remember? There was an effort and the two “big” trainers didn’t seem to want to do without the diuretic.

      • Peyton

        There will be hissy fits and law suits over this too. It will be totally voluntary by each jurisdiction or it will be unconstitutional. IMO. “a patchwork of rules and uncertainty for the industry and fans” is not the real problem. The rules are in place, they are just not being aggressively enforced. And I do not foresee the USADA having enforcement powers for the rules it recommends, much less the legal power to require that states adopt their recommendations.

        • Rachel

          Interstate and online gambling gives the Feds a lot more power over this issue that normally would be reserved to the states…they can simply pull the plug on those privileges.

          • Peyton

            The article said that the feds are not getting involved aside from trying to pass this bill. They cannot regulate states rights, i.e. gambling, so any of you that are looking to this as a fix all are badly mistaken IMHO. This type of news release causes concerned people to let down their efforts to continue to change the system we are faced with. They will never PULL THE PLUG. There have been many other opportunities to do so and the fed gov has not shown the ability to do so. I think they realize it is unconstitutional to try it.

          • Horse Guy

            Oh yes they can. And if you read the current law that was drafted and adopted in 1980, the interstate wagering act has an entire provision which states that Congress will have the responsibility for oversight of the law. They can and should pull the right for any state to send their wagering product across state lines if the state isn’t policing their own. No simulcasting, no revenue. Read the law. It’s very clear and on line for all to see. Understand the facts.

          • Peyton

            Dear Rachel,
            Imagine that Florida has agreed to the recommendations from the non empowered usada. They will not have the legal ability to require all jurisdictions to comply. So this horse that has failed the Florida drug rules shipped to Kentucky, which has not voluntarily agreed to the usada rules. Kentucky says let him run and let our bettors wager. The usada will have no power to prevent a Kentucky bettor from placing money on the horse that failed the Florida test. And more importantly, the usada will have no power to prevent those wagers from going across state line, because the interstate horse racing act allows it. This news release is political at best and is detrimental to the efforts to make state racing commissions answerable to their actions. Aside from changing the us constitution, we are faced with making each state commission accountable for their actions and non actions. IMHO. Because this will be voluntary from each state, it will not be much different than what is in place today.

        • Ben van den Brink

          The interstate act 1968, offer the ideaal equipment to enforce changes.

          If a state comissiondoes not co operate, than cuts off the interstate betting.

        • Mike Oliveto

          Spot on. 110% correct.

  • Greg J.

    Bravo!

  • Robynne Catheron

    This is very good news! But why not make it effective immediately? Waiting a year and a half to enact anti-doping laws means hundreds, if not thousands of unfit, too-young horses will suffer needless injuries, and worse, death.

    • James

      You are so right they are worried about the other bill in congress ! Just buying more time

  • Gallop

    What type of economic analysis would be required with this legislation?

  • Hamish

    Sounds good. Finally an industry supported bill that will ban all raceday medications.

    • G. Rarick

      I didn’t see that at all in the information above. It says they want uniform regulation. No one is talking about banning anything, unfortunately. This would be a first, necessary step, but once things get serious, they’ll back down and give in to the pharmaceutical industry yet again.

      • Hamish

        I just read several of the releases and links again and you’re right. Representative Tonko doesn’t specifically call for a ban on all raceday medications, at least not in his quotes, but perhaps when the final draft of his bill is introduced he will? I was assuming all this press was about the “full monty,” of doping bans, so my bad.

  • FourCats

    I am very much in favor of having a nationwide set of regulations regarding medications in horse racing. However, there is little else in this press release that says what the legislation will actually say or do. A number of the comments here seem to think that the new law (if passed) means no drugs or harsher rules/penalties or no Lasix. This press release doesn’t say anything of the sort unless you make the assumption that the proposed law will do those things because “anti-doping” is in the name of the act. Or unless you have inside information as to the actual text of the proposed law. One thing that is said however is that the “industry” will pay for the establishment and administration of the program. Translating that means that horse owners and fans will pay for it as they are the only source of funds for the industry. If it accomplishes a fairer set of rules for everyone, that’s great. But will it change anything? I would be more hopeful if “anti-doping” was not in the name as that indicates to me that writers of the bill are trying to be controversial / political by implying that the entire industry is corrupt. There are certainly corrupt people in the industry, but there are also many who are not. What would have been wrong about naming the bill something noncontroversial like the “Horse Racing National Medication Act”. By the way, I just noticed that the word “Thoroughbred” is in the title. Why are other breeds such as Standardbreds and Quarter Horses not included?

    • Peyton

      I think your thoughts are spot on about what the bill will actually do or not do. They could have named it the Racehorse Safety and Integrity Act which got nowhere. But I guess that would be admitting defeat before it was reintroduced. I see this press release as you do, little more than a big title without any teeth behind it. Maybe politics at the racing level.

  • McGov

    Hoot Hoot!

  • dave_parker

    The “coalition” is composed of the same wealthy people — they founded “WHOA,” they are all members of JC, BC (e.g., Phipps, descendents of Vanderbilts, etc.). At least Hal Rogers didn’t introduce this bill — his wife is an executive of the Humane Society. I would like to see a comparison of this bill with similar ones introduced by Udall & Rogers over the last few years.

    • Elliott ness

      Excellent post sir, if whoa has their way along with jockey club, all stakes races will be for horses that have been sired by a Claiborne stallion or raised there, or at stone farm, or the owner of the horse must have had surgery at Dr David richardsons profit. Or be descendant of a Phipps family mare. I think it is all absurd. All of the members of whoa except, Casner run on lasix, it’s absurd,. Does anyone on this board know exactly what whoa is after, if so please enlighten me. Thanks in advance.

      • Peyton

        I think you are being overly critical of owners. They may be hypocritical, but I doubt they are trying to do what you suggest. With your opinion on this you are reinforcing the divide and conquer philosophy which the cheaters hope will continue. I DO agree it is all absurd in reference to where the industry is today, but it is not as you suggest fully to blame on the breeders and owners. IMHO.

        • Elliott ness

          It’s like the parking lot at an AA meeting, their all preaching about abstinence inside at the podium, but you look out the window onto the parking lot, their having a sip from a half pint. Absurd. If you are a member of WHOA , and your running on Salix, same as sipping from the half pint. If you talk it, then walk, don’t flip flop. Take a stand in Paris Ky.

          • eshever

            They choose which horses to stand at stud, too. Are any of them looking at standing horses that didn’t need lasix?

  • Martha Winsten

    I think that is wonderful of Rep. Tonko and I commend him for it.

  • James

    2017 a lot of owners and trainers small tracks won’t last that long !

  • spanky

    The problem is not Lasix but those who cheat and use drugs that are not allowed. If the feds want to get involved let it be the US attorneys office not the USDA. Walk the cheaters out in handcuffs as they are changing or attempting to change the outcome of a wagering event.

  • 2hoursfromsaratoga

    And who will pay for this One more gubbermint Agency?

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