March 10, 2016
Tom LaMarra, Blood-Horse

The New York Racing Association board of directors March 10 voted to support federal legislation that would grant the United States Anti-Doping Agency authority over equine medication policy, drug testing, and enforcement.

The Thoroughbred Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2015 was introduced last June in the U.S. House of Representatives. Though the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity has gradually picked up co-sponsors for the bill in the House, it hasn’t been heard in committee and a Senate version hasn’t been introduced.

The NYRA Executive Committee recommended support for the measure be granted, said board vice chairman Michael Del Giudice, who noted the action is more about voicing support than having an impact on the bill passing Congress.

NYRA board counsel Joseph Lambert provided an overview of the federal bill, which would create the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority. Members would be appointed by USADA with racing industry input.

Lambert said THADA would develop its own rules; that a funding mechanism is not yet identified other than to say money will come from the Thoroughbred industry; and that state law would be preempted only in regard to anti-doping matters.

The House bill pertains only to Thoroughbred racing, but the coalition has indicated a Senate version will include rewrites to address questions over constitutionality as well as inclusion of other racing breeds.

NYRA board members said the organization and the state should be industry leaders on medication and testing—a board committee expects to have recommendations sometime this year on policy changes. They also question how the national medication effort would dovetail with what NYRA already does or plans to do.

“This is in addition (to what NYRA is doing),” NYRA president and chief executive officer Christopher Kay said during the meeting. “It’s two different avenues to the same ultimate goal.”

In regard to USADA oversight and its potential impact on NYRA’s authority, Kay said: “We’ll see, because if you read that bill, there are a lot of areas that require further definition. What I’m doing today is saying, ‘What can we do to get greater clarity here in New York?” It has been a pretty successful effort so far.”

In a follow-up statement, Kay said: “We fully support national oversight through an independent agency to ensure that all jurisdictions are on a level playing field. We believe that uniform policies nationwide can only help further the credibility of the sport.”

Ex officio board member Rick Violette Jr., president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the federal bill has little support thus far, and that he’d rather see the coalition throw its weight behind pushing the National Uniform Medication Program—a state-by-state initiative—across the goal line.

“I understand this vote (today) is basically a done deal, but I want to underline a few things,” Violette said. “The horsemen are vehemently opposed to this, and it’s a divisive piece of legislation. With the national uniform medication policy, New York has finally jumped in. Depending on how you look at the numbers, 80% of handle is represented by states that have adopted three of the four tiers of the program.

“I wish we had more unity moving this initiative forward because it has had great impact.”

Violette suggested New York could take a leadership role by using its simulcast contracts to push adoption of the uniform medication program elsewhere by withholding its signals and not accepting signals from jurisdictions that don’t fully adopt the program. “It creates a big stick that others could follow,” he said.

NYRA board member Leonard Riggio said the organization should be a leader but has no authority because it doesn’t control the current medication and testing program in New York. He also noted the future of the NYRA franchise remains undecided; a deadline to privatize NYRA already was pushed back one year.

Board member Marc Holliday said the endorsement of the federal bill comes “at no significant cost to NYRA,” an indication the association doesn’t plan to invest a lot of money on lobbying for passage of the legislation. Kay said he doesn’t think “there was ever any intention to have a great deal of time or effort or money spent on (the bill).”

The board didn’t say it has joined the coalition that backs the federal bill. The coalition recently said there could be a congressional committee hearing in late April.

“We want to keep going (in New York) but be supportive of other efforts,” Del Giudice said of the vote on the federal drug bill.

The coalition later said it is “thrilled to receive an endorsement from an organization that operates one of the premier racing circuits in the world and maintains an ongoing commitment to safety and integrity at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. This medication reform movement continues to gather steam, and we are hopeful other racetrack operators, racing organizations, and other Thoroughbred industry organizations will follow NYRA’s example by lending their support.”

Teresa Genaro contributed to this story