August 9, 2016
Tom LaMarra, Blood-Horse

The pros and cons of federal legislation that would grant the United States Anti-Doping Agency oversight of equine medication and drug testing were discussed yet again Aug. 9 and, if anything, showed the split in opinion remains strong a year since the bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 has picked up about 50 co-sponsors in the House since last summer, according to supporters, and a companion bill—with some new language—is expected to be introduced in the Senate. It still awaits a committee hearing.

The bill was the focus of a panel discussion at the Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing, and Gaming Law in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. There is agreement on some issues but there are major differences in opinion regarding the best way to proceed toward uniformity in medication and testing.

Regulatory consultant Joe Gorajec, in endorsing the federal bill, said shortcomings in the current system include lack of a national uniform out-of-competition testing program, uniform testing standards, and double-blind testing of samples. He cited the results of a Daily Racing Form survey that indicated racing fans believe the sport has integrity issues.

“We haven’t given them a reason to trust our labs,” Gorajec said. “No one is testing the testers. I’m a strong advocate of the National Uniform Medication Program but is it the answer to a national anti-doping program? I believe the answer is no.”

Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association chairman Alan Foreman, who was at the forefront of the uniformity effort in the Mid-Atlantic region, disagreed. He said the industry effort is “making a generational change,” and there is no need to complicate matters with federal involvement.

“(The bill) is unconstitutional, and it’s not going anywhere,” Foreman said. “It has got problems on so many levels. It does two things: It’s a stalking horse for elimination of race-day (Lasix), and it takes the (National Uniform Medication Program) and hands it over to this authority. Do we need the federal government or a private authority to do what we’re doing?”

Joe De Francis, who represents the Humane Society of the United States, said that about 12 years ago he would have agreed with Foreman. But developments in recent years have changed his view.

“There is a revolution in public attitudes toward animal welfare in America, most importantly attitudes of the younger generations,” said De Francis, who formerly owned the Maryland Jockey Club tracks. “The reality is there is a massive perception problem, justified or not. Things today are materially better than they were 15 years ago, but fairly or unfairly, we have a public perception problem in horse racing.”

Association of Racing Commissioners International president Ed Martin advocated for a national out-of-competition program Foreman said could be in place next year. Martin again claimed the industry has thrown itself under the bus by “creating a political divide” that stymies progress.

“This sport is suffering from self-inflicted wounds,” Martin said. “We need to find those areas on which we agree. When this industry is united and pulls together, things happen.”