05/25/2017 2:00PM

Barr-Tonko bill gets overhaul

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A bill that would create a federal authority responsible for racing’s drug and medication policies and their enforcement has been amended to include an explicit ban on the administration of any medication within 24 hours of a race, a provision that likely will perpetuate opposition from major U.S. horsemen’s organizations.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Andy Barr (R.-Ky.) and Paul Tonko (D.-N.Y.), was reintroduced Thursday as the Horseracing Integrity Act. In the last congressional session, the bill was never called for a vote, in large part because of a lack of consensus in the racing industry, according to federal lobbyists.

The bill’s new ban on the administration of any “prohibited or otherwise permitted substance” 24 hours prior to a race is among a host of major changes made to the legislation, which is supported by a group of racing constituencies that are largely aligned with the sport’s breeding industry. Most prominently, the prohibition would lead to a race-day ban on the use of furosemide, a diuretic that is legal to administer on race day in every North American racing jurisdiction but is illegal on race day in most major racing countries.

Barr, on a teleconference Thursday to announce the reintroduction of the bill, said the race-day ban was being called “the Stronach amendment,” a reference to Frank Stronach, the prominent owner and breeder who founded The Stronach Group, a private company that owns racetracks and other racing-related assets. In April, Stronach announced his support for the bill while specifically referencing his desire to see furosemide banned on race day.

That reference had exacerbated concerns by horsemen that the bill ultimately would seek a ban on the race-day use of Lasix, one of the most contentious issues in North American racing. The previous bill did not include an explicit ban. Several racing officials involved in negotiations over the bill have said over the past month that Stronach would not lend his support to the bill unless the explicit ban was added.

“We believe it’s an important part of restoring the integrity of the sport,” Barr said in response to a question as to why the new language was added to the bill.

Eric Hamelback, the chief executive of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said on Thursday that he would decline to comment on the legislation until the NHBPA had reviewed the current proposal. He said that in December, supporters of the bill had told the NHBPA that the group would be updated on changes to the bill as it moved forward, but that no updates were given to the NHBPA.

Hamelback also acknowledged that a potential ban on race-day furosemide use had been a major factor in the NHBPA refusing to support the bill in the past legislative session.

“There have been few changes made to gain our support,” Hamelback said.

Under the bill, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a private company that receives funding from the U.S. government and private sports leagues, would control a new federal organization that would devise and enforce all rules governing medication and drug use, including testing requirements and penalties.

Major changes to the 2017 version of the bill include a provision that would give the federal organization authority over Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing; the elimination of language that would allow the authority to block interstate simulcasts within a state, a provision in the previous bill that had troubled racetracks; and the reworking of provisions giving states broader abilities to collect money to fund their shares of the effort.

The bill also contains new provisions allowing for the appointment of another agency other than USADA to control the board, and a new section that allows racing states to fulfill the same functions as the federal authority under a federally sanctioned compact.

(A copy of the bill can be found here.)

The new bill was introduced to a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to Barr and Tonko, who are co-chairmen of the Congressional Horse Caucus. During the last legislative session, the bill was never afforded a formal hearing in front of a committee or subcommittee, and lobbyists have said the legislation has little chance of passage unless all of racing’s major constituencies line up behind the bill.