Congressman Andy Barr at last week's Pan American conference

Congressman Andy Barr at last week's Pan American conference

2017 Pan American Conference/Max Krupka

Congressmen Say Federal Bill Targets Lack of Uniformity

New bill would include Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Standardbred racing.

In re-introducing federal legislation that would give the United States Anti-Doping Agency oversight of medication issues and drug testing in horse racing, Congressmen Paul Tonko and Andy Barr emphasized the need for uniformity in the sport's medication rules.

While introducing the bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act May 25, representative Barr, a Kentucky Republican; and representative Tonko, a New York Democrat; said ensuring uniformity is an important goal.

"We believe that the time has come for uniform medication rules in American horse racing. Uniform rules will ensure the integrity, competitiveness, and the safety of horse racing and lay the groundwork for the future success of this great American sport," Barr said. "Under existing law the American racing industry labors under a diverse patchwork of conflicting and inconsistent rules governing medication policies and practices across dozens of racing jurisdictions. 

"This lack of uniformity in the rules of horse racing has impaired interstate commerce and it has undermined public confidence in the sport. The Horseracing Integrity Act that we're reintroducing today will encourage fair competition and a level playing field across state lines.

Currently the Association of Racing Commissioners International adopts model rules that it encourages its state regulator members to adopt. But that process can see states make changes to those model rules, delay adoption of those rules, or completely ignore the model rule, which leads to a lack of uniformity.

Just two recent examples of problems with such a set-up include the disqualification of Masochistic from his runner-up finish in the 2016 TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) after he tested positive for an anabolic steroid in his system. If California had fully adopted the model rule, Masochistic would not have been allowed to start in that race.

In February trainer Jamie Ness began a 100-day suspension for previous clenbuterol violations in Florida but he promptly shifted horses under his care from his name to his wife's name. There is a model rule—the industry standard—prohibiting that maneuver, but Florida has not adopted it.

The National Uniform Medication Program calls for a list of controlled therapeutic substances, third-party furosemide (Lasix) administration, a multiple medication violation system, and use of Racing Medication and Testing Consortium-accredited labs. As of May 25, the RMTC reports that only 11 state jurisdictions had adopted all four of those platforms. 

Tonko said current state regulation of the sport's medication issues has too many holes.

"It's about the integrity of the sport—making sure that there isn't this patchwork system of medication reforms and compliances with testing," Tonko said. "Discerning fans want to know that the equine athlete is respected and the sport is whistle clean—very, very clean. With that involvement, we can then have growth to an industry that is vitally important to this country."

Barr specifically noted the inconsistency in out-of-competition testing from state to state and said the legislation would add more out-of-competition testing to horse racing. He credited efforts by the RMTC and National Thoroughbred Racing Association to improve uniformity but said those efforts have fallen short.

"You have so many different rules," Barr said. "We want all of the jurisdictions to have the same rules."

Barr added that the current landscape on medication rules in horse racing would be like the NFL having different rules from stadium to stadium.

"There's one set of rules for that sport and you don't have varying rules based on where you go to play the game," Barr said.

The focus of the bill introduced Thursday is similar to the previous bill, in that it would give USADA oversight of the sports medication polices and drug testing. The bill would require a uniform, anti-doping, and medication control program to be developed and enforced by a private, non-profit, self-regulatory organization known as the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority.

The authority would be governed by a board composed of the chief executive officer of the USADA, six individuals from the USADA board, and six individuals selected by USADA who have demonstrated expertise in horse racing.

There have been some changes to the legislation that representatives hope adds to its support. Some of the changes aim to ensure that the legislation is fully constitutional. The bill would put the non-governmental organization USADA under the limited oversight of the Federal Trade Commission. Barr said the FTC has a history and mission of fair competition in a variety of industries.

A second change is the legislation would apply to not just Thoroughbred racing, but Standardbred racing and Quarter Horse racing as well.

Also, the legislation would specifically prohibit race-day medication. Currently the only medication allowed to be administered on race day is fursoemide, which is given to prevent bleeding. Barr said bill supporter and prominent owner-breeder Frank Stronach, and the track owning entity he founded, The Stronach Group, pushed for this provision.

"Every change that's been made here has been done to broaden and strengthen the coalition," Tonko said.

The bill does not have the support of either of the country's major horsemen's groups, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association or the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National HBPA, said after initially being informed that the new legislation would see the FTC have limited oversight of the USADA-appointed Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, his group heard no further details.

Hamelback, commenting only on the announced changes, as he had not yet had an opportunity to read the full bill, said adding the race-day medication prohibition to the legislation removes a protection for horses supported by the American Association of Equine Practitioners. That group said furosemide to control exercise-induced pulomnary hemmorhage should be allowed in the absence of a more effective treatment.

Alan Foreman, chairman and CEO of the THA, said the bill aims to create an avenue to prohibit race-day furosemide outside of the current industry and regulatory process.

"This legislation validates what we've been saying for more than two years. That the Barr-Tonko bill was just a smokescreen to set up a mechanism to eliminate race-day medication," Foreman said. "It would bypass the current regulatory process and the racing commissions in an industry—that if there's been a consensus—it's been to maintain the current practice with regards to Lasix, including the use of third-party administration and tightly regulated control of Lasix in racing."

Foreman added that the industry's move toward uniformity in recent years has been unprecedented and continues to gain momentum.

"This updated version merely validates what we've been saying and they can stop pretending that it's not about Lasix," Foreman said. "To suggest that the industry lacks uniformity is to ignore what's going on. I think they want the focus on uniformity because they don't want the focus on what really happened today, that there is legislation now to ban Lasix effective Jan. 1, 2019."

The congressmen said that while individual trainers support the bill, neither horsemen's group backed it. They also said the NTRA has not voiced support of the bill. The NTRA didn't take a position on the previous legislation. The legislators said that the American Quarter Horse Association and United States Trotting Association also have not taken a position on the legislation, that now includes their racing as well.

Barr said while the NTRA has not taken a position on the new legislation, it did offer constructive input on the bill.

Barr and Tonko are optimistic the bill can advance. They noted the support of individuals and organizations representing a broad spectrum of interests across the industry, including The Stronach Group, Water Hay Oats Alliance, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, The Jockey Club, Keeneland Association, and the Humane Society of the United States.

The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, which rallied support for the previous legislation and supports this bill, said changes are needed to help the sport move forward.

"Representatives Barr and Tonko deeply appreciate the scope and economic impact of horse racing, not only in their home states but across the country, and they should be commended for their devotion to an ongoing legislative effort that will help ensure the future of our horse racing," said Shawn Smeallie, executive director of CHRI. "Both of them, along with their respective staff members, have worked closely with a broad range of equine industry stakeholders to revise the original bill they introduced in July 2015 and with their colleagues in the House of Representatives and United States Senate. We are grateful for their diligence."

The previous bill had a total of 88 co-sponsors and Barr said there is momentum out of a recent Horse Caucus hearing. He said on the Republican side, Fred Upton of Michigan, the former chairman of the committee of jurisdiction and the Energy and Commerce committee, has signed on as a supporter. Barr said he's had productive meetings with Republican leadership and members of the Energy and Commerce committee.

Tonko, a member of the Energy and Commerce committee, added that he's seen similar new enthusiasm on the Democrat side of the aisle. He said he thinks more co-sponsors will come on board. The first goal is to have a hearing in the Energy and Commerce committee.

Barr believes the legislation will help the industry move forward.

"The Horseracing Integrity Act will encourage fair competition and a level playing field across state lines, ensure full and fair disclosure of information to purchasers of breeding stock and to the wagering public, and provide for the safety and welfare of horses, jockeys, and drivers," Barr said. "This, in turn, will enhance the popularity and international competitiveness of American horseracing."