04/28/2016 5:10PM

Supporters of legislation to reform horse racing regulations speak out


Members of the Congressional Horse Caucus held a hearing-style discussion of a bill seeking to restructure the regulation of U.S. racing on Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C., with supporters vowing to continue to press for adoption of the legislation.

The meeting was put together by Reps. Paul Tonko of New York and Andy Barr of Kentucky, the co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus and the sponsors of the legislation. Five panelists were invited to provide comments about the legislation, with four of the panelists clearly in support of the bill. The fifth, a representative of a national horsemen’s organization, urged legislators to keep the current state-by-state approach to regulation in place.

The legislation, which was introduced last summer but has not been scheduled for a formal hearing, would appoint the U.S. Anti Doping Agency, a non-profit company, as the overseer of racing’s medication and testing policies. The legislation, which was written by a consortium led by The Jockey Club, has drawn significant support from many owner/breeder-led organizations, but other racing constituencies are opposed to the bill for a variety of reasons.

The meeting Thursday was clearly designed to draw attention to the legislation and energize its supporters, with Tonko and Barr both directing scripted questions to panelists after they were each allowed to speak for five minutes. Approximately a dozen legislators attended at least a portion of the hearing, and four legislators aside from Tonko and Barr provided comments or asked questions.

Craig Fravel, the president of Breeders’ Cup Ltd., which supports the bill, echoed the statements of the legislation’s supporters by telling the congressional members that racing is not capable of establishing uniform rules in all 38 racing jurisdictions without establishing a national overseer. He said the legislation would replace a system that is “inherently inefficient” with one that “makes sense,” citing the current differences in the rate of adoption at the state level of a recommended national uniform medication policy.

“We should not confuse progress with success, and we should not be content with a system that has dramatic room for improvement,” Fravel said.

Bobby Flay, the celebrity chef and a board member of the New York Racing Association and Breeders’ Cup, used a large portion of his address to criticize the race-day use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, calling the drug a “performance enhancer” that has weakened the breed in the U.S. and damaged the reputation of U.S. horses internationally. Flay also said that U.S. horse racing has a reputation both domestic and abroad of “rampant drug use.”

The topic of whether the legislation would result in the race-day ban of furosemide has become one of the major sources of controversy over the bill. Most organizations representing U.S. trainers are adamantly opposed to a ban on the race-day use of Lasix, but most of the supporters of the legislation have publicly advocated for a race-day prohibition. That has led to a belief that if the bill passes, USADA would adopt a ban, if not immediately, then eventually.

Eric Hamelback, the executive director of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, recited a litany of concerns about the legislation during his address. He also hinted that horsemen may file a legal objection to the legislation, citing an analysis raising questions about the constitutionality of the bill.

Others speakers included Joe De Francis, the former majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club who is now on a racing committee of the Humane Society of the U.S., which is a supporter of the bill; and Chauncy Morris, the executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, also supporters of the legislation.

In his concluding remarks, Barr urged supporters of the legislation that he would continue to press for the bill’s passage. “It’s clear the status quo is not working,” he said.

Tonko also thanked supporters of the effort and said that Thursday’s discussion of the legislation was “a great start.”