With a pair of United States Congressmen planning to formally reintroduce legislation that would aim for uniform medication standards in horse racing by giving the United States Anti-Doping Agency oversight of equine drug polices in the sport, powerful racetrack owners The Stronach Group has announced it will support the legislation.
In the coming days, Congressmen Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky; and Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York, plan to reintroduce the Horseracing Integrity Act that Barr said would create uniform medication standards across 38 U.S. racing jurisdictions by giving USADA oversight of racing's medication rules and testing.
On April 26 Stronach Group founder Frank Stronach said The Stronach Group would support the legislation. Some of the tracks owned by The Stronach Group include the Maryland Jockey Club tracks of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes (G1); Santa Anita Park; and Gulfstream Park.
"I, Frank Stronach, founder and honorary chairman of The Stronach Group, am pleased to support the Horse Racing Integrity Act, sponsored by Congressman Andy Barr and Congressman Paul Tonko," Stronach said April 26. "Under the legislation, USADA should work together with state regulators and members of the horse racing industry to achieve the highest integrity at a reasonable cost."
Congressman Barr welcomed Stronach's support.
"Today, horse racing in America took a great step forward," Barr said. "Frank Stronach, founder and honorary chairman of North America's largest Thoroughbred racing company, The Stronach Group, announced his unqualified support for the Horseracing Integrity Act. This bipartisan legislation, which I sponsored with Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), will finally bring uniformity and independence to horseracing's anti-doping program and no race day medication.
"There are few people more committed to the future of horseracing in North America than Frank Stronach, a multiple Eclipse Award winner for outstanding breeder and outstanding owner. To have someone of his stature endorse this legislation puts the Horseracing Integrity Act on a clear path toward success."
Barr said the bill would designate USADA, a non-profit, private, and independent organization, to run a nationwide program to protect the integrity of horse racing. Stronach emphasized that under the legislation, USADA should work together with state regulators and members of the horse racing industry to achieve the highest integrity at a reasonable cost.
The bill aims to give USADA exclusive jurisdiction over the sport, creating uniform lists of permitted and prohibited substances and methods, a program for in- and out-of-competition testing programs, and the establishment of uniform sanctions for violations.
Stronach, who backed the previous bill as a member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA), said under USADA's guidance he envisions the gradual elimination of race-day medication. Currently the anti-bleeder medication Salix (furosemide, also commonly referred to as Lasix) is allowed to be administered on race day.
"No race-day medication is a giant step forward," Stronach said. "I believe, in the long run, no race-day medication is better for the horses and for the industry. I feel the horse racing industry has an obligation to the horses and to the public to see horses run without medication to ensure the health and safety of both the horses and the jockeys.
"It is important that the implementation of no race-day medication and the phase-out period of race day medication are done in a fair manner to enable breeders and horse owners to adjust their breeding and racing programs."
Expected to be formally reintroduced in the House of Representatives in the next few days, the original version of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, H.R. 3084, garnered the support of nearly 90 co-sponsors.
Despite bi-partisan support and those co-sponsors, the previous bill did not make it out of committee. The legislation does not have support from either of the major horsemen's groups, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
Because of the lack of horsemen's support, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which has an advocacy team in Washington, has not taken a position on the bill.
The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity welcomed Stronach's continued support as it hopes the re-introduced bill fares better.
"Like Congressmen Barr and Tonko, Frank Stronach realizes and appreciates that this industry sorely needs a national, uniform, anti-doping and medication control program that would be developed and enforced by a private, independent, self-regulatory non-profit organization," said CHRI executive director Shawn Smealie. "We also expect a Senate version of the new bill to be introduced in the near future and we are heartened by the growing support for this approach not only in the halls of Congress but throughout the horse racing industry."
Stronach previously signed on with WHOA, which supports the federal legislation that would give USADA oversight of medication in horse racing. In an April 24 meeting, which included Stronach, Arthur and Staci Hancock of WHOA, Barr, USADA CEO Travis Tygart, and other members of WHOA and CHRI, Stronach stated The Stronach Group is committed to supporting the Horse Racing Integrity Act.
"WHOA would like to thank Frank Stronach for his continued support and ongoing dedication in our fight for clean racing and integrity in our sport and for the protection and well-being of our horses," the group said in a statement.
Stronach-owned tracks, at times, have put in house rules that go beyond regulatory requirements. As one example, Gulfstream Park in Florida requires that within 72 hours of a horse being claimed, the trainer of record of the claimed horse forward information on any joint injections to a track representative, who then forwards that information to the new connections.