03/28/2014 11:50AM

Jockey Club supports federal oversight if states fail to pass reform measures

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The Jockey Club will press for the passage of legislation allowing a federally designated company to write and enforce horse racing’s medication rules if “the major racing states” have not adopted a series of Jockey Club-supported reforms by August, the chairman of the organization, Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, said in a statement Friday.

The vow to push for federal regulation of racing reiterates a position The Jockey Club staked out last August, when it made a similar threat at the organization’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing.

[JOCKEY CLUB PUSHES FOR FEDERAL REGULATION]

In appointing the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a private, nonprofit company, as the sport’s medication overseer, the bill cited by Phipps would disempower the patchwork of state racing commissions that currently regulate the sport and would lead to a ban on the race-day administration of the diuretic furosemide within three years of the bill’s passage.

“The draft legislation proposed by some federal lawmakers involving the United States Anti-Doping Agency is a highly attractive model,” Phipps said in the statement. “USADA has the experience, the knowledge, and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.”

The statement was released one week after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is opposed to horse racing, began publicizing a nine-minute video it produced from footage shot by an agent of the organization who worked for trainer Steve Asmussen for four months in 2013 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky and Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York. PETA has alleged that the video shows instances of animal cruelty, and it has filed complaints making those allegations with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New York State Gaming Commission, both of which have said they will conduct vigorous investigations into the charges.

Although the statement specifically states that The Jockey Club will make a determination on whether to support federal legislation “no later” than Aug. 10, the date of the 2014 Round Table, Jockey Club officials declined to be specific Friday about which states would need to fully implement the reforms to qualify as progress.

“There isn’t a definition [of major racing states] that is set in stone,” said Matt Iuliano, The Jockey Club’s executive director, who is spearheading the organization’s push for the rules in racing states. “There are certain states that would qualify as a critical mass.”

Iuliano specifically referenced California, Florida, Kentucky, and New York as critical states. The racing commissions in all of those states except Florida have approved the uniform rules, though they have not been “fully implemented,” in some cases because legislative approval is required before they can go into effect, a process that can take months.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said she expects the rules approved by the commission late last year to go in front of the state’s Legislative Research Committee later this year. The LRC cannot approve the rules without conducting public hearings.

“I think we qualify in principle” as supporting the rules, Scollay said. “However, nothing is set in stone, and I would anticipate some resistance at the committee meetings.”

In Florida, horsemen, breeders, and racetracks are united in support of the reforms, according to Lonny Powell, the chief executive of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association. However, getting attention for medication reform has been difficult during a year in which legislators and regulators are considering controversial changes to the state’s casino gambling laws, Powell said.

“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Powell said. “But it sure has gotten complicated. We’re going to have to double down on our efforts.”

Although the uniform rules have the support of a large number of racing organizations, some horsemen have objected to specific regulations regarding the number and identity of allowable therapeutic medications and their threshold levels. The uniform rules currently identify 26 medications for therapeutic purposes, meaning some concentration is allowed to appear in post-race tests because those concentrations would have no impact on performance. All sports have similar exceptions to allow for therapeutic treatments of athletes.

Phipps’s statement identified only four states as having “fully implemented” the rules: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia. A website supported by The Jockey Club, horseracingreform.org, identifies the rules in another 22 states as being “in adoption process or under discussion.”

Iuliano said “full implementation” of the reforms would require action in four areas. The first is the adoption of the list of 26 allowable medications and their threshold levels. The second is the adoption of a new penalty schedule that includes significantly harsher penalties for repeat offenders. The third is a requirement that the states’ testing labs receive accreditation from an industry-developed list of standards. The fourth is a requirement that furosemide only be administered on race day by third-party veterinarians, rather than private vets.

The federal bill cited by The Jockey Club was introduced during last year’s federal legislative session but did not come up for a vote. Many existing racing organizations are resistant to federal regulation of the sport because it would make state racing commissions obsolete and because of the fear that groups opposed to racing, such as PETA, could more easily force their agenda on the sport through the federal legislative process.