Change vs the status quo.
That was the theme of Friday's debate at a hearing on Capitol Hill about the Horseracing Integrity Act. The bill would, among other things, ban the use of Lasix on race day and put drug testing and medication oversight in the hands of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Whether USADA would be effective at monitoring an equine sport when it has no such experience was one point of contention among the six panel members at the hearing conducted by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee. The panel represented horsemen, the Breeders' Cup, current regulators, The Jockey Club and the Humane Society of the United States. Another issue was the effectiveness of the current U.S. system, where there are more than 30 different sets of rules and regulations in the various states that conduct racing.
“If one of your challenges is making sure the consuming public understands our sport better, it's important that we have one set of rules,” testified Craig Fravel, CEO of the Breeders' Cup. “Baseball teams, other than the designated hitter rule, don't play under different rules when they travel from one league to another, one city to another. We've had that problem in racing for many, many years. In the old days, it was fine. Horses stayed where they were, the public wagered on site, but now we travel around the world and we need a modern system to enforce our regulations and to create them.”
But Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said the ARCI has spent years developing uniform medication rules that simply need to be adopted by the states.
“The constituencies that are most concerned about any minor inconsistencies from state to state are the horsemen, and the horsemen are universally opposed to a radical reconstruction of the current system,” said Martin. “If the Congress is interested in having one set of standards, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to adopt the ARCI model rules by reference because it's been years and years and years of well-thought-out research and interaction between our veterinary community that's gone into the creation of those rules.”
Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of The Jockey Club, argued that never in his lifetime will he see that kind of cooperation in the racing industry. He said compacts like the uniform medication effort are designed to waste time.
“I''ve worked for the last 20 years being in rooms with other people to try to figure all this out, and the status quo for a lot of people is exactly what they want,” said Janney. “And what I'm here to do is try to provide the things that are going to be necessary for this industry so my children can enjoy it.
“This will get there in my lifetime. The compact won't.”
Panelists spent a lot of time at the hearing answering questions about Lasix. Alan Foreman, the chairman and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association built his case against the elimination of Lasix on race day, noting for one thing what he believes trainers in countries without race-day Lasix do.
“If Lasix is not permitted, you withdraw water from the horse for at least 24 hours prior to competition And you withdraw food. That's how it's done,” said Foreman. “Don't think for a second that horses don't bleed in Europe. They may not be able to use Lasix on race day, but the most effective therapy for a horse that bleeds is to withdraw water 24 hours prior to competition. Now, is that humane? Is that in the best interest of the horse?”
Foreman also offered up a bleak economic impact on the industry with an abolition of Lasix.
“If there's a move to eliminate Lasix in this country, it's going to force owners out of the business,” Foreman said. “It's going to force, at horse sales that go on in many states throughout the country, a disclaimer that'll have to be put on horses that are sold that they are potential bleeders, that they may suffer this incidence of EIPH, that they will not be able to treat that horse for racing, and that horse may not be able to race.
“Can you envision buying an automobile or product, where you're told at the time of the sale, that this product may have a problem and you're not going to be able to fix it in a way that you can use it? Are you going to buy that product?”
Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), was asked if all horses are running on Lasix allegedly to prevent Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH), do any of them have a competitive advantage?
“If it prevents EIPH from occurring, it's going to allow a horse to perform at it's natural talent,” said Hamelback. “If bleeding does occur beneath the alveoli of the lungs, then yes, that would inhibit the horse from just gaining the advantage of his natural talent.”
But Janney made the case that Lasix isn't just being used to stop bleeding and help horses race to their natural ability. The reason, he argues, that everyone uses it (including him on non-juvenile horses) is because it is, in fact, a performance enhancer, and not using it puts owners and trainers at a competitive disadvantage.
“At the Pegasus Cup , Frank Stronach, who doesn't believe in Lasix, that was a $15 million race,” Janney began. “Bob Baffert had a horse in there called West Coast. He was our champion 3-year-old last year. He was going to Dubai after that and run without Lasix, and he was offered a five-pound weight allowance. He would carry five pounds less if he didn't administer Lasix before the Pegasus. And Bob Baffert chose to administer Lasix. So I think at least Bob Baffert is saying it's a performance-enhancing drug.”
The fact that other countries around the world have no race-day medication was also a point of contention throughout the hearing. Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, commented on how horses in those countries seem to be doing just fine.
“There's no indication they're ailing or suffering because they're not using race-day medication,” Block said. “It is a standard we think the United States also should be able to meet. and as it's been mentioned, these horses do travel internationally, and when they're in those other countries, they're racing just fine. In an effort to bring the U.S. up to the global standard, I think (this bill) is necessary.”
While the Horseracing Integrity Act has received significant support in the House, there are no co-sponsors for it in the Senate as of yet.
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