Horsemen Warned of Federal Drug Legislation

Horsemen expect members of Congress to make another attempt at winning support for legislation that would regulate medication use in racehorses by banning all race-day administration.

Brian Fitzgerald, a lobbyist for the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said Feb. 21 that Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico are expected to introduce another bill this year. The lawmakers in previous years have been unable to move the bill forward.

"There is enough noise in the background suggesting our opponents are up to something," said Fitzgerald, who is with American Continental Group, during the National HBPA winter convention in Clearwater, Fla. "We believe they will try to raise the stakes by putting pressure on us (on the race-day medication issue) by opening up the Interstate Horseracing Act."

In most jurisdictions the only drug administered on race day is the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix. Language in previous federal bills calling for a total ban on performance-enhancing drugs was vague but believed to include Salix.

Most industry organizations have publicly opposed any attempt to open the IHA, a 1978 law that authorizes simulcasts across state lines. Fitzgerald indicated the talk in Washington is that the law could be used to create some sort of "national medication regulation organization."

Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, expressed concern over tinkering with the IHA. "It's the only leverage protection horsemen have," he said.

Fitzgerald said his group of lobbyists is working on educating members of Congress on the impact of horse racing and breeding in the United States. He said when and if equine medication legislation is introduced, lawmakers would then have the necessary background to analyze it.

"The question is how far will they go and how successful will they be?" Fitzgerald said of Whitfield and Udall. "The way to get our attention is to put us at risk. It would be very destructive for our industry to have this debate again, so we have to be on the defensive."

Though organizations such as The Jockey Club advocate a drug-free policy on race day, it has joined other groups in focusing on medication uniformity that has broad support. Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said Feb. 20 it's only a matter of time before racing commissions adopt a model rule.

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