Commentary: Unintended Consequences

RCI president Ed Martin shares concerns about more federal involvement in racing.

By Ed Martin

When the NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL owners go to Washington, D.C., do they complain to Congress about how bad their sport is? Do they post comments on the Internet telling fans how bad everything is?

Of course they don't. But this is what happens with horse racing by the well-intentioned who fail to appreciate that they're waving red flags in front of bulls. On the eve of Kentucky Derby day the bulls attacked by proposing a repeal of the Interstate Horseracing Act.

This development was totally foreseeable. Having worked almost a decade in the U.S. Senate, I privately warned friends in prominent places of the dangers inherent with their actions. And now hope has been given to the marginal few who will work tirelessly to stop the running of horses for sport, entertainment, or profit, regardless of the breed.

Great job, gang. You've also convinced people with the ability to kill the sport that Lasix equates with horse-doping and the use of legal therapeutics in training by medical professionals working to safeguard a horse is drug abuse and a reason to shut down simulcasting. Touché!

And while this was being done, state racing commissions were raising the bar in testing labs to meet international accreditation standards; investigating veterinarians now convicted; collaborating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to chase the source of illegally compounded substances being abused; modifying policies to enhance pre-race exams; unlocking a substance now known as demorphin; strengthening the network of racing investigators through the Organization of Racing Investigators; and developing an international intelligence sharing network.

The RCI model rules, which some call the National Uniform Medication Program, have largely been adopted or are in the rule promulgation process in 28 racing regulatory jurisdictions. Only five, mostly harness commissions, have not moved it forward. This is significant progress in a short period of time.

We know those who cheat will stop at nothing. But our anti-doping efforts are comparable to others, and the results show that we are equally effective in dealing with the same challenges of identifying those substances and nefarious efforts to beat the testing labs. Lance Armstrong did it in cycling. Lou Pena is charged with doing it in racing. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency got Armstrong, and a state racing commission discovered Pena.

I believe racing has a problem with the overuse or misuse of legal substances in training that may contribute to catastrophic breakdowns. That's why RCI is talking about expanding the jurisdiction of state commissions over horses in training. Developing new legal paradigms to ensure equine welfare is paramount.

RCI just finished a major conference in Tampa, Fla., with top veterinarians and lab directors from around the world to work on these matters. (USADA was invited, but didn't come.) Unfortunately not one member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance was there to work with us in the trenches.

The door is always open if anyone wants to help rather than burn the house down. During the past decade, helping us has shown more results than complaining to politicians.

Ed Martin is president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International. For the past 18 years, he has been a leading figure in horse racing regulation. He worked on Capitol Hill as a senior aide and spokesman for a U.S. senator for most of the 1980s.