Group Wants Racing Act to Regulate Medication

A new grassroots organization that opposes use of medication on race day wants involvement by the federal government in horse racing.

The Water Hay Oats Alliance, also known as WHOA, was founded in May by Arthur and Staci Hancock, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, and George Strawbridge Jr., according to a July 31 release. Three of the founders—Arthur Hancock, Gretchen Jackson, and Strawbridge—testified during a congressional hearing held in late April in Pennsylvania.

"The alliance was formed by a group of Thoroughbred owners who are tired of the drugs, both legal and illegal, given on race day," Gretchen Jackson said. "It is our goal to create a win-win situation for those who love the sport and the horses."

"The time has come to accept the federal government's offer to help us clean up our sport," Arthur Hancock said. "We need to work with them, not against them, if we are serious. This is what the Water Hay Oats Alliance is all about—working for clean racing and a better future for our horses, our jockeys, our sport, and the next generation."

WHOA supports federal regulation that would ban the use of performance-enhancing drugs in racehorses. The group includes furosemide, the anti-bleeding drug also known as Salix or Lasix, in that category, and believes the racing industry is unable to regulate itself in the area of medication.

"By an amendment to the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, national uniformity can be accomplished," Strawbridge said.

Several members of Congress have co-sponsored the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act, which would penalize those caught using performance-enhancing drugs in racehorses. Some in the racing industry, however, believe the language in the bill is too broad because it would classify therapeutic drugs as performance-enhancing.

There also is resistance by many industry organizations to tinker with the IHA, which governs interstate simulcasts and online pari-mutuel wagering, which account for roughly 90% of the money bet on horse races.

The divide over the federal regulation issue was apparent during a second congressional hearing held in Washington, D.C., in early July. Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Jim Gagliano, one of eight witnesses at the three-hour hearing, said uniform medication standards and penalties should be in a stand-alone bill.

He said The Jockey Club also would support state-by-state implementation of its proposed "Reformed Racing Medication Rules" or a national compact depending on what can be achieved. But Gagliano said the IHA should not be opened up and because the "crucial medication issue could get lost" should lawmakers decide to add other provisions to it.

The WHOA website (waterhayoatsalliance.com) lists about 10 "supporters" but also includes a May letter signed by more than 400 people who say they want Congress to use the IHA to regulate equine medication in racing. The website allows individuals to join WHOA.

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