A trio of high-profile Thoroughbred owners and owner/breeders is lobbying for support of a federal ban on performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing.
Arthur and Staci Hancock of Stone Farm, Roy and Gretchen Jackson of Lael Stable, and Augustin Stable owner George Strawbridge Jr. issued a two-page statement May 4 appealing for widespread support of the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act, which was filed in Congress that same day by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Republican U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. The legislation, co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), aims to prohibit the use of all performance-enhancing drugs on race day and implement a three-strikes-and-your-out penalty system. In addition to the suspensions and fines assessed against anyone knowingly doping a horse, the legislation would also suspend the horse from racing for periods ranging from 180 days for the first offense to two years for the third offense.
The letter from the Hancocks, Jacksons, and Strawbridge note that the use of therapeutic medication in racing has not helped the sport. Since 1960 the average number of annual starts has fallen from 11.31 to 6.11. The average number of lifetime starts has fallen from 45.2 to 12.97 since 1950, and the pari-mutuel handle has dropped 24.42% in the last three years.
“With precipitous declines in both attendance and wagering at our tracks, compounded by the plummeting bloodstock sales, it is apparent that Thoroughbred racing is at a crossroads,” said the letter from the Hancocks, Jacksons, and Strawbridge. “The industry has suffered a loss of confidence and respect with its fans and the general public.”
“In our opinion, this is the only way to end this terrible blight on American racing and to bring us in line with the rest of the world,” the letter continued. “We have been disappointed time after time over the years by promises, platitudes, and good intentions. Now, here is a way to stop the madness once and for all.”
At the bottom of the second page of the statement is a place for a person to sign that they support the legislation.
The Hancocks bred Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and co-owned Gato Del Sol, who won the Derby in 1982, and Sunday Silence, who won the Derby in 1989. The Jacksons raced Barbaro, who won the Derby in 2006. Strawbridge has campaigned many homebred graded stakes winners including grade I champions Forever Together and Informed Decision.
Not everyone is thrilled with having the federal government involved with the regulation of medications. Alan Foreman, chief executive officer for the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, has said there are very few serious drug violations and that racing already has an effective testing and deterrent system in place.
The federal legislation was filed shortly after a number of horse racing organizations called for a phase-out of anti-bleeding drugs such as Salix (formerly known as Lasix). Plans have also been announced for an international summit this summer to address the issue of race-day medication use. Organizing the summit is the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.