04/29/2011 10:08AM

Legislators set to propose federal medication laws


The U.S. racing industry is once again facing the prospect of federal regulation, this time in a bill that would prohibit the raceday use of the diuretic furosemide (Lasix) and require lifetime bans for trainers whose horses have tested positive for illegal drugs three times.

According to officials, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, a Democrat, and Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, a Republican, plan to introduce the legislation next week just before the Kentucky Derby, when racing is in the national spotlight. Both congressmen have supported federal regulation of the sport in the past.

The legislation comes at a time when the racing industry is battling significant declines in betting, suffering from a contraction in the bloodstock industry, and is on the defensive over the health and safety of its horses.

At the same time, efforts to ban the raceday use of furosemide, which is used to treat bleeding in the lungs, have gained support inside the industry since late March, when the incoming and outgoing chairmen of the Association of Racing Commissioners International said they supported a ban. In addition, controversy surrounding trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. – who was denied a license in Kentucky two weeks ago and faces the revocation of his license in New York – have swung a spotlight on the treatment of serial violators of medication rules.

Representatives of Udall and Whitfield did not return phone calls Friday.

According to a copy of a draft version of the bill obtained by Daily Racing Form, the legislation would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act, the federal legislation passed in 1978 that provides a regulatory framework for interstate simulcasting. In addition to banning furosemide on raceday and creating mandatory federal penalty guidelines for drug violations, it would grant power to the Federal Trade Commission to regulate drug testing of horses and give individuals the right to bring civil actions against racetracks that are not complying with the federal code.

Most of the racing industry has aggressively opposed federal regulation, citing concern over laws that could potentially have a crippling impact on the sport. Critics of the draft legislation said the bill was unlikely to gain much support in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by anti-regulation Republicans, because of the way it would broaden federal power.

“This is a serious attack on states’ rights,” said one racing official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is a massive federal intervention, and it would usurp all powers of state racing commissions. The racing commissions are going to fight this tooth-and-nail.”

Just before the Derby last year, Udall and Whitfield made public a letter calling on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to respond to questions regarding the industry’s use of medication and its penalty guidelines for trainers. Though Udall and Whitfield were expected to pursue legislation later in the year that would require federal regulation of the sport, no bills were introduced.

The racing industry is likely to point to the ongoing effort to build support for a ban on the raceday use of furosemide and make the case that the industry is taking care of its own problems, officials said. The effort has been endorsed by a handful of influential organizations, including the Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the Breeders’ Cup, and several groups representing owners and breeders. However, horsemen’s groups have urged caution and have indicated that they will resist a ban.

On Thursday, James Gagliano, the chief executive of the Jockey Club, released a detailed explanation for the Jockey Club’s support of a ban on furosemide. In it, Gagliano contended that the widespread use of furosemide had compromised the public’s perception of racing and left the United States increasingly isolated from the rest of the sporting and racing world. The United States and Canada are the only major racing jurisdictions that allow for the use of the drug on raceday, and more than 95 percent of the horses who run in the United States receive raceday administrations, according to Jockey Club data.

On Friday, Gagliano said the Jockey Club would “respectfully decline comment on the legislation until we have had a chance to review it.”

Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the TRA – which has endorsed the proposed ban on furosemide – said that the expectation of legislation had only a “small” impact on the current efforts to ban the drug.

“It wasn’t a big factor,” Scherf said. “The position of the TRA is more based on the general public’s concerns. It’s customer-driven.”

The introduction of the legislation could provide a powerful political backdrop to recent efforts to bar Dutrow. On May 11-12, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board will conduct hearings to consider revoking Dutrow’s license, citing his long history of violations – including two suspensions totaling 90 days recently handed down by the New York board but appealed by the trainer. Dutrow also has appealed the April 13 decision by the Kentucky Licensing Review Committee to deny him a license, and hearings have been scheduled for late June.