I found it more than a bit ironic that a slew of damaging headlines preceded and followed the May 25 announcement of the reintroduction of Reps. Barr and Tonko’s sponsored federal bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017.
If anyone needed further convincing that the medication regulation system in the United States is broken beyond repair, the stories behind those headlines reiterated one message loudly and clearly: The status quo is unacceptable.
- For starters, on May 22, a report detailed the decision to declare two winners of the 2016 Parx Oaks—and it wasn’t because two horses crossed the wire at the same time. Rather, it was because the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission amended its initial ruling, stating that positive tests were at concentrations below recommended levels.
- Two days later we read about dozens of drug positives being dismissed because of the inability of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to comply with state law when collecting and processing blood samples.
- That same day, according to published reports, the West Virginia Racing Commission rescinded seven rulings of medication violations, attributing a spike in positives to different screening levels at various laboratories.
The full impact of recurring headlines, like these from three separate states, is undoubtedly substantial. By maintaining this system of disparate, uneven state-based regulation, we, as an industry, are reinforcing a widely held negative image of our sport.
Some racetracks are so exasperated with the state of affairs they are taking matters into their own hands.
Parx Racing, which in 2016 had 55 disqualifications that led to purse redistributions, recently announced a series of “house rules” aimed at preventing horsemen from violating medication and integrity rules. They went into effect June 1 and are not retroactive.
“I was a steward at Suffolk Downs for an 80-day meet, and we had none,” Sam Elliott, the director of racing and racing secretary at Parx, told Paulick Report recently. “To me, it’s an alarming number. It’s just out of control, in my opinion. Obviously, the suspensions (from stewards rulings) are not a deterrent.”
Among the new rules will be the automatic benching of a horse with an overage of a therapeutic medication and a revocation of stalls for trainers who have multiple medication suspensions.
We should applaud Parx management for recognizing the problem and taking aggressive action.
However, a new set of rules at one racetrack doesn’t fix our national problem.
As was noted by the prominent equine surgeon Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith of Colorado State University in the June 3, 2017, edition of BloodHorse, “The elephant in the room is lack of uniformity. In every other major racing jurisdiction, you have a national authority, whether it’s France, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand. And so those countries can make the rules and everybody adheres to them. But there are 38 racing states in the U.S., and getting everybody to uniformity is difficult.”
For the sake of our national sport, The Jockey Club believes the Barr/Tonko legislation is our best opportunity to bring uniformity and to position horse racing for sustainable growth.
The bill would empower the private, non-governmental United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to join with horse racing industry experts to create and maintain the private entity that would set standards for an effective, nationwide anti-doping program for horse racing.
Some have questioned the qualifications of USADA when it comes to equine drug testing, as its experience has been with human athletes. Much like a company requires its chief financial officer to have expertise in finance and bookkeeping rather than product development, USADA has proven expertise in designing and running successful anti-doping programs across a variety of sports.
That is why Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), the $4 billion mixed martial arts professional sport, contracted with USADA to bring the agency’s expertise, independence, and commitment to that fast-growing sport.
I am confident that USADA can bring a world-class anti-doping and medication control program to horse racing as well.
We’ve certainly seen enough headlines to know the present system isn’t working.
It’s time to support the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017.
James L. Gagliano is the president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, which is a majority owner of BloodHorse LLC. The Jockey Club is a member of the broad-based Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.