09/12/2014 12:04PM

NTRA seeks to unite factions on drug oversight


LEXINGTON – The National Thoroughbred Racing Association will attempt to bring together the opposing sides on the divisive issue of raceday medication and federal regulation of racing in an attempt to “forge a consensus” before any other federal bills are introduced, the NTRA’s president, Alex Waldrop, said during a briefing to racing constituents on Friday morning at Keeneland.

The effort by the NTRA to unite the two factions is unlikely to bear fruit, considering the hardened positions on each side. But the attempt to reach a consensus is in part designed to avoid federal hearings that have taken place over the past three years that have been highly critical of the racing industry, Waldrop said. Those hearings were called in part to build support for bills supported by a faction of the industry that is in favor of banning the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide and appointing a non-profit company, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as the overseer of the sport’s medication policies.

“It’s always better for the industry to go with one voice, to speak with one voice, on anything that is being heard in Washington, D.C.,” Waldrop said after the briefing, the third that the NTRA has held in the past month to update industry members on racing’s federal lobbying efforts. “Our long-term objective is to resolve those disputes, to deal with them as an industry, so that we don’t take those battles so publicly to Washington, D.C., for everyone to see.”

Last month, the Jockey Club, which has supported the federal bills, said that it will continue to push for federal legislation appointing the USADA as the sport’s medication overseer and banning the raceday use of furosemide, which is also known as Lasix. The Jockey Club is expected to hire its own lobbyist to push for the legislation and intends to also rely on influential supporters of its position to press for the bill.

For a variety of reasons, federal racing lobbyists continue to maintain that federal legislation has little chance of passage without the industry uniting behind a bill. Federal oversight of racing and a ban on raceday Lasix is opposed by a wide cross-section of racing organizations, including horsemen’s groups and state racing commissions.

The previous versions of the bill have never been called for a vote at any level of government, in large part because of the lack of consensus within the industry.

“As long as the industry is divided, the prospects of moving anything is bleak,” said Greg Means, a lobbyist with the Alpine Group, the NTRA’s lobbying firm, speaking of the prospects of any legislation mandating federal oversight of a business.

Over the past month, Jockey Club members and supporters of the bill have expressed optimism about the chances for a bill next year even without buy-in from other industry groups, in part because of the organization’s acknowledgment that it will now work in the open for the legislation.

Waldrop said that the NTRA plans to involve every racing constituency in the discussion over the possibility of federal regulation.

“Let’s have the debate within the industry, and come to some consensus on how to move forward,” Waldrop said. “I don’t know what that is. I don’t have that solution. But it’s better than a noisy, public debate in front of the country.”