05/18/2017 8:56AM

Rep. Barr calls for industry support of bill instituting uniform racing rules


WASHINGTON – A Republican congressman representing central Kentucky who has taken the lead in backing a bill that would nationalize racing rules said on Thursday that the bill’s advancement will hinge on gaining a consensus in the racing industry to back the legislation.

Rep. Andy Barr, who represents a district that includes many of Kentucky’s most prominent horse farms, said during a speech at the opening of the Pan Am Conference in Washington that he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the next several weeks. The international conference is organized by the U.S. Jockey Club, which backs the Barr bill.

The bill was introduced during the last Congress, but it never got beyond a committee, and it has not yet faced a vote. The racing industry is split on the bill, with many horsemen’s organizations, racing commissions, and racetracks skeptical of the legislation’s plan to designate a private company, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as the overseer of the sport’s medication regulations and penalties, for a variety of reasons.

Barr acknowledged during his speech that the bill has little chance of passage in the current Congress unless support for the legislation broadens within the industry.

“We must have a continual dialogue with industry constituents,” Barr said. “Only with this consensus approach can we enact the reform that we need.”

Many horsemen’s groups have declined to back the bill because of a concern that the bill’s supporters intend to use the new structure to push through a ban on the race-day use of furosemide, which is legal to administer on race day in North America to mitigate bleeding in the lungs. Those concerns were reinvigorated when Frank Stronach, a prominent owner and breeder, announced his support for the bill early this year in a statement that specifically referenced his desire to see furosemide banned on race day.

The bill would allow USADA to devise the sport’s medication rules and penalties, with state racing commissions delegated to enforce the rules. States that do not comply with the USADA rules would lose the right to conduct interstate simulcasting, a provision that has scared many racetracks away from the bill under the concern of losing a critical source of revenue because of a squabble between horsemen and regulators.

Barr is a somewhat unusual proponent for the bill, given his adherence to free-market principles and his efforts to repeal federal regulations. However, the bill is nearly universally supported by some of his wealthiest constituents, the owners of central Kentucky’s horse farms, under the belief that uniformity of rules would lead to a surge in demand from international buyers, who are typically publicly critical of U.S. medication policies.

In his speech on Thursday to the international audience at the Pan Am Conference, Barr said that “some of racing’s challenges are not solely attributable to the lack of uniform rules.” However, he said that aligning rules among U.S. racing jurisdictions would “eliminate excuses” that prevent young people from gravitating toward the game, and he said that exports of U.S. bloodstock would benefit from a set of rules that are largely consistent with the rest of the racing world.

“Now is a good time to double down on our efforts here,” Barr said.