United States Rep. Paul Tonko of New York said May 29 he will introduce federal legislation that would grant the United States Anti-Doping Agency oversight of equine medication and drug testing.
The Jockey Club, which supports the effort, earlier had indicated a bill could be introduced this year. Tonko on a conference call said he plans to do so in a few weeks, and that he has bi-partisan support of other members of Congress.
The bill, called the Thoroughbred Horse Anti-Doping Act of 2015, would put USADA in charge of rule-making, testing, enforcement, and oversight, Tonko said. He noted "there would not be an ongoing role for the federal government" should the measure pass.
USADA apparently would determine which medications, if any, can be used in racehorses on race day, including the commonly used anti-bleeding drug furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix. Horsemen's groups across the country vehemently oppose any efforts to ban furosemide on race day.
Tonko, a Democrat, said "promulgation of rules, regulations, and standards would be granted to the THADO, which will consult with "interested parties" when it comes to making policy that impacts the horse racing industry. There would be an 11-member board, five members of which would come from the racing industry.
The bill, when introduced, will have an effective date of Jan. 1, 2017.
Tonko said that along with The Jockey Club, other organizations that support the effort are Breeders' Cup, the Water Hay Oats Alliance, and the Humane Society of the United States. The lawmaker said he expects other groups to sign on in the future.
"We can no longer turn our backs to the health of our horses," Tonko said. "Many are pushed beyond the limits and wouldn't be able to run without medication. I find, and many people find, that unacceptable."
For the past two years the industry has made steady progress in medication uniformity through state-by-state adoption of all or parts of the National Uniform Medication Program. Tonko, however, suggested the effort isn't sufficient.
"We're not doing the job to speak forcefully for the (equine) athletes, and that denigrates the perception of the sport," he said. "A single, national approach to medication and drug testing with strong independent oversight is long overdue and will help ensure the industry's long-term viability, including enhancing the care and welfare of horses."
WHOA, an organization supported by about 1,100 industry stakeholders, has pushed for elimination of all race-day medication and improved drug testing. In response to the Tonko bill, WHOA said "federal regulation is needed to appoint an outside, independent agency to bring uniformity in rules, testing, and enforcement."
"WHOA commends Congressman Paul Tonko for announcing his intent to introduce this important legislation," organization spokeswoman Staci Hancock said. "And we call on all of our supporters to contact their member of Congress and ask them to serve as co-sponsors."
The bill wouldn't modify the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which governs interstate simulcasts and advance deposit wagering. It would, however, force any facilities that accept interstate simulcasts on horse races to comply with THADO policy. It also states that THADO "would have the same investigatory powers state racing commissions have in their states on anti-doping matters."
Tonko said there would be no federal funding of the initiative. Instead, initial funding would come from loans and donations. Long-term funding, however, would come from all racing states whose racing commissions would be notified of an estimated amount per starter that would be charged in each state to support the THADO program.