As predicted by horsemen earlier this year, members of Congress are again preparing to introduce legislation that would regulate the use of medication in racehorses.
The Jockey Club, in a statement released May 1, said the new bill is called the "Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act." It would put the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which handles drug testing for the Olympics, in charge of the endeavor.
One of the sponsors is New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat who has pushed similar legislation in the past. Since the late 2000s, members of Congress have introduced equine drug-related bills only to have them never reach the floor for votes.
The New York Times reported the bill could be introduced the week of May 5.
Under the bill the USADA would develop rules for permitted and prohibited substances and create anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs for horse racing, according to Udall's office. The bill would ban race-day medication; link medication policy to interstate simulcasts; enact "stiff penalties," including lifetime bans for violators; and ensure racehorse drug administrations comply with veterinary ethics.
Udall said the bill wouldn't amend the Interstate Horseracing Act, which governs simulcasts across state lines and account wagering. Whether racing industry officials buy into that remains to be seen.
In February, Brian Fitzgerald, a lobbyist for the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said members of Congress were expected to introduce a bill this year.
"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," Fitzgerald said at the time.
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, D.C., is that the law could be used to create some sort of "national medication regulation organization."
The latest attempt at federal regulation comes at a time when horse racing never has been closer than achieving uniformity in drugs and penalties.
The Jockey Club, in its statement, said it believes the "overuse of medication endangers our equine and human athletes, threatens the integrity of our sport and erodes consumer confidence in our game." The organization stopped short of an endorsement of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act because it hasn't seen the document.
"We appreciate Congress' continued interest in helping to safeguard the sport of horse racing, in particular with the recent news accounts of the proposed (legislation)," The Jockey Club said. "We have not yet seen the proposed bill, but upon its release we will review it and provide our comments to its authors.
"In the meantime, The Jockey Club is encouraged by the substantial progress being made in the area of medication reform, including the efforts of Mid-Atlantic regulators and the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to more tightly control the use of therapeutic medications; the commitment by members of the industry, led by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, to develop new model rules with more stringent penalties for repeat violators; and the eight equine drug-testing laboratories, representing 24 pari-mutuel racing jurisdictions, that are currently undergoing accreditation reviews. Uniform accreditation will ensure more stringent and uniform standards for forensic drug testing.
"We recognize that there are a variety of available avenues for effecting the needed changes, whether through state action, a federal compact, federal law, or horseracing industry action, and we will continue to steadfastly support the enhancement of the safety of our athletes and the integrity of competition."
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association also weighed in on the proposed legislation.
"We will withhold comment on any proposed federal legislation until we have had a chance to thoroughly review the actual bill," NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said. "However, we are encouraged by the significant progress the industry has made on the safety and integrity front over the past several years."
Waldrop said state regulators are setting the stage for nationwide, uniform implementation of strengthened drug and medication rules, testing, and penalties by as early as Jan. 1, 2014.
"The NTRA strongly supports these carefully considered state regulatory reforms and encourages regulators to expedite their adoption and nationwide implementation," Waldrop said.
Meanwhile, the Association of Racing Commissioners International said the bill being considered could damage progress the racing industry has made in the area of drug uniformity and penalties.
"While we have the utmost respect for what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency does in human sport, we are concerned that the program they deploy permits the use of prohibited substances in competition upon receipt of a therapeutic use exemption, something we do not allow in horse racing," RCI president Ed Martin said. "If those standards were applied to horse racing, they would considerably weaken the current program as well as undermine some of the reforms we are currently working to implement."
Martin again contended the drug-testing program in horse racing is the most aggressive in professional sports and is totally independent, conducted by official government agencies subject to audit, legislative review, and public transparency. He also said there is an "enormous gap" in the magnitude of the USADA program when compared with the existing program in racing.
RCI cited the 2011 USADA annual report, which shows 8,204 drug tests were conducted; that's just slightly larger than the number of racing-related tests conducted in Indiana alone. United States regulatory agencies conducted more than 385,000 drug tests on racehorses and racing Greyhounds in a year.
"We appreciate the desire of those in Congress who wish to help us in our anti-doping efforts, but we think a better way might be to revisit the $9 million in federal aid received by the USADA each year to require that some be set aside to fund equine drug-testing research projects," Martin said. "That's where we believe they can be a tremendous help."