Feds May Step In on Race-Day Drug Use

A proposed federal bill would create stiff penalties for race-day medication use.

A federal bill may be filed next week that creates a three-strikes-you’re-out penalty system for anyone found guilty of racing a horse under the influence of a performance-enhancing drug.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and expected co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky), proposes to implement the tougher penalties by amending the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which allows the horse racing industry to conduct offtrack and Internet wagering across state lines. The following penalties are proposed:

* first violation: a fine not less than $5,000 and a suspension not less than 180 days,

* second violation: a fine not less than $10,000 and suspension for not less than one year from all activities related to horse racing,

* third violation: a fine not less than $20,000 and a permanent ban from all activities related to horse racing.

The suspensions proposed would also apply to the horse. After the first violation, the horse would be suspended from racing for at least 180 days. The second violation would carry a one-year suspension from racing, and the third violation would result in a two-year suspension.

The bill does not state specifically who would be held responsible—the trainer, the owner, or the veterinarian—nor does bill address the different classifications of medications or the thresholds of their effectiveness.

Alan Foreman, chief executive officer for the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said he didn’t see the need for any federal medication regulation.

“I am mindful that there have been some regulatory failures, and we are talking about Dutrow,” said Foreman, referring to New York trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., who was suspended by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in February for a total of 90 days for hypodermic needles in his barn and for a winning horse’s positive test for a banned painkiller at Aqueduct in 2010. Dutrow has appealed the state ruling.

“Put that aside, the violators are few and far between," Foreman said. "We have very few serious violators, and we have a very effective deterrent system. The system works; better than in any sport in the world when it comes to drug detection.”

Udall’s bill also gives authority for enforcement to the Federal Trade Commission, which caused some racing industry leaders to question how the added layer of federal enforcement would be funded at a time when budgets are tight and state regulatory commissions are fighting to secure adequate funding for essentially the same function.

Keith Chamblin, vice president of marketing and communication for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the organization would withhold comment until the final bill is filed.

“We had anticipated a bill would be introduced around the Triple Crown and prior to the Derby,” Chamblin said. “We cannot comment until an actual piece of legislation is dropped. What is being proposed and what is ultimately introduced may be very different.”

Ed Martin, president and CEO of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, also said he could not comment on the bill until his organization had adequate time to analyze what’s being proposed.

"The bill does underscore the need for the reform that RCI has been talking about," Martin said. "Whether this is the proper route to go is up for debate. We share the senator’s frustration.”

The bill comes on the heels of a call by the outgoing and incoming RCI chairmen to phase out race-day medication use in racehorses within the next five years. Support for further examination into race-day restrictions has been expressed by The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said more discussion is necessary before rules are considered.

An international summit to address race-day medication is being planned for the summer by the NTRA and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. A date and location have not been determined.

See Also: Jockey Club Strongly Urges Drug-Free Racing