Federal Regulation Gets Push, With Caveats

Federal Regulation Gets Push, With Caveats
Photo: Courtesy Senator Tom Udall
Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico chaired the hearing.

The Jockey Club isn't opposed to federal regulation of medication and penalties in horse racing but it would prefer Congress not tinker with the Interstate Horse Racing Act, an organization official said July 12 during a congressional hearing on performance-enhancing drugs.

The hearing, held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in Washington, D.C., was the second racing-related hearing this year. A House subcommittee held a hearing in late April in Kennett Square, Pa., on equine medication use.

Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Jim Gagliano, one of eight witnesses at the three-hour hearing, said uniform medication standards and penalties should be in a standalone bill. He said The Jockey Club also would support state-by-state implementation of its proposed "Reformed Racing Medication Rules" or a national compact depending on what can be achieved.

But Gagliano said the IHA, which authorizes interstate simulcasts and advance deposit wagering, should not be opened up and rewritten to govern equine medication. He said the "crucial medication issue could get lost" should lawmakers decide to add other provisions to it.

There has been broad industry consensus the IHA shouldn't be tinkered with for that reason.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico chaired the hearing and said legislation he co-sponsored, the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act, could put horse racing on a better path. Gagliano suggested changes should be made in the language, particularly the classification of all medications as performance-enhancing.

The Jockey Club's proposed reformed rules allow for use of about 25 therapeutic drugs--none of them on race day--based on veterinary consensus and the health of the racehorse.

None of the witnesses disputed the need for penalties for horsemen who "dope" horses with illegal drugs. There is, however, no consensus on use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide on race day, and it appears there won't be agreement anytime soon.

Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said uniform penalties and standard testing levels for laboratories would go a long way toward solving racing's medication problem. As for furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix, Martin acknowledged its acceptance as the best treatment for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging but said the RCI is examining its pro-Salix policy.

The organization will meet July 23 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for a regular meeting to discuss model rules.

"We are in the process of reassessing (the position) to see if there are other side effects (from Salix) and to see if we should continue the policy," Martin said.

To no surprise the typical misconceptions about horse racing were mentioned during the Senate hearing: that doping of racehorses is rampant, that horses are frequently abused, and that the industry is populated with cheaters. Martin and Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, offered statistics that told a different story.

Stirling, who chairs the National HBPA Medication Committee, refuted Udall's contention of widespread doping, given the difference between illegal and legal medications used for therapeutic purposes. He noted industry statistics that suggest 99% of drug tests are negative for illegal drugs, and 99% of trainers have no positives for such substances.

"Anyone doping horses should be kicked out of racing," Stirling said.

Stirling contended race-day Salix isn't performance-enhancing--others dispute that claim--in that it doesn't make horses run faster. He said the drug "has been swept up in a media frenzy" of inaccurate stories and lumped with illegal pain-killers.

Team Valor International president Barry Irwin said there is no place for race-day drugs. He said the public "can't tell good guys from bad guys."

Stirling said more education of the public is needed to explain the difference between helpful drugs and those that are banned.

Udall said horse racing needs federal regulation to control use of medication in racehorses.

"Horse racing has a proud heritage, but the sport has run off the rails," Udall said. "Chronic abuse with pain-killers and other drugs is just plain wrong and dangerous."

Udall said the bill he co-sponsored would ban performance-enhancing substances and enact severe penalties for violators. He said the bill "doesn't create new federal bureaucracy" because states would still retain regulatory power.

Udall, however, also mentioned the federal IHA and horse racing's "special exemption" for interstate wagering. In what may have been a mild threat, he said Congress "shouldn't tolerate doping and cheating in interstate horse racing."

Martin, as he has done in the past, warned of a lack of financial resources at the state level to fund federal mandates for horse racing. Udall said there is "plenty of money" available in states that have alternative gaming at racetracks.

There are complications, however. Jeff Gural, a racetrack casino operator in New York and New Jersey, has proposed to the United States Trotting Association that horsemen's groups take a percentage of purse money to pay for better drug testing and marketing, and though a poll suggested support, leaders of horsemen's groups have balked.

It's rare that all of horse racing's share of gaming revenue doesn't go toward purses and breed development incentives only. In Pennsylvania racetrack casino operators are mandated to spend some money on backstretch improvements for a period of time, but tracks have shown no desire to cough up any revenue for other racing-related programs.
 

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