08/13/2017 2:04PM

Jockey Club renews push for federal legislation to regulate medication, drug testing


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The Jockey Club is doubling down on its support for legislation that would put in place a federal framework for the sport’s regulation of medication and drug testing, and it will do so without the support of large horsemen’s associations, according to comments made during the organization’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing on Sunday in Saratoga Springs.

A succession of speakers to close out the conference focused on the legislation, which would appoint the United States Anti-Doping Association, a private, non-profit company, as the overseer of the sport’s medication and drug-testing policies. The speakers included Barbara Banke, the prominent horse owner and breeder; Shawn Smeallie, executive director of the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity, a group supported by the Jockey Club and founded to push for the adoption of the bill; and Stuart Janney III, the chairman of the Jockey Club.

In his closing remarks to the Round Table audience, Janney listed a number of incidents in Pennsylvania, including the recent conviction of a trainer on 14 counts of mislabeling medication and conspiracy, as a “black eye on racing” that could be addressed, at least in part, by the adoption of the legislation, which has been introduced to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He then singled out the National Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association for criticism, calling it a “disgrace” that the National HBPA provided funding for Rojas’s defense.

“Could we have expected them to marshal their resources to represent all the horsemen that have been cheated?” said Janney, referring to horsemen that may have participated in races compromised by Rojas and other Pennsylvania trainers who have accepted guilty pleas in a long-running investigation of the backstretch at Penn National Race Course.

The National HBPA, and another major horsemen’s organization, the National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, have voiced their opposition to the legislation, contending that the industry is better off with state-by-state regulation. The organizations are also opposed to a ban on the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, and the bill was amended earlier this year to include, for the first time, an explicit ban on all raceday medication. Furosemide is the only medication allowed to be administered on raceday in the U.S.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, but Smeallie said that the House and Energy Committee staff have assured him that the bill will get an “industry round table meeting this fall.” The language suggests that the committee has not yet committed to a hearing in which the bill could be moved by a vote.

Nevertheless, Smeallie expressed confidence that the bill will pass either this year or next year. Lobbyists have expressed doubts that a major regulatory bill could move in the current Congress without the affected industry providing a united front to legislators.

“The bill will move because it does right by the horse,” Smeallie said.

Banke called on the audience members to contact their congressmen in support of the bill, which is being called the Horseracing Integrity Act by its co-sponsors, Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from upstate New York, and Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican representing Central Kentucky, where a large number of commercial breeders support the bill.

“We must establish an unwavering vision of our practices on a national level via legislation,” said Banke. “The age we live is not the age we leave behind. Each day we wait is wasted opportunity.”

Janney closed his speech and the conference with a call to action as well.

“It wouldn’t address all of our sport’s issues, but it would be a great start, and it would be a meaningful foundation for growth,” Janney said.

Trio of new safety recommendations proposed 

In other presentations at the Round Table, James Gagliano, the president and chief operating officer of the Jockey Club, said the organization’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee had issued three new recommendations.

The first was that all racing jurisdictions ban the use of any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug within 48 hours of post time of a race. Most racing jurisdictions already have such bans in place, to prevent horses from being administered painkillers that may mask pain or underlying soundness issues, but there are still a few outliers.

The second recommendation was for all racetracks to “self-publish” data that is currently provided to the Equine Injury Database, a national effort to track injuries suffered by horses while racing. The database has been credited with developing statistical tools that can help identify horses that may be of greater risk of injury, and Gagliano said that self-publishing would hold tracks accountable.

The third was for all veterinary records for a horse to be transferred to a new owner at the time of the ownership change. Supporters of such a requirement believe that it will aid horsemen employed by the new owner in determining any issues that a horse has had in the past.

Overlapping post times may contribute to millions in lost handle

Ben Vonwiller, a partner in McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm that The Jockey Club has employed on a handful of occasions, said that a group he led at the company has concluded that racing may be losing an estimated $400 million in handle due to the current scheduling of its races, citing specifically the overlapping of post times. (National handle on U.S. races in 2016 was $10.74 billion.)

Vonwiller said his team believes that it could develop an algorithm to work out an “ideal” schedule for each racing date in an attempt to maximize handle, but he acknowledged that some factors, such as post-dragging to allow more bets to come into pools, could reduce the effectiveness of the effort.

“There will need to be certain things done to unlock that value,” Vonwiller said.

◗ Stacie Clark, an operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, said during a presentation on aftercare efforts that the bet-processing company AmTote has developed a new self-service terminal that will allow customers to donate money directly to the TAA off winning bets or vouchers. Clark said any donation made through the machines will go “100 percent” to aftercare efforts. AmTote is owned by The Stronach Group, the private racing company founded by owner-breeder Frank Stronach.