‘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.

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