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Bill Would Give USADA Medication Oversight



Editor's Note:  The following article written by Frank Angst appeared in Blood Horse (www.bloodhorse.com).  The article notes the formation, through legislation, of an independent body to enforce uniform medication oversight in the thoroughbred industry.  Many of the objectives of the legislation are the same as legislation and efforts made in the Walking Horse industry.

A bipartisan bill introduced July 16 in the United States House of Representatives would allow the United States Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent organization for oversight of medication regulation in horse racing.

Introduced by Reps. Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican, and Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat, the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 would require any racetracks that participate in simulcast wagering to accept medication oversight by the new entity—the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority. The legislation would grant the USADA-shaped authority power over regulation, testing, and enforcement of equine medication use in Thoroughbred racing.

Under the legislation, THADA would be an independent organization composed of the USADA chief executive officer—currently Travis Tygart—five USADA board members, and five individuals from different constituencies of the Thoroughbred industry appointed by USADA. Those individuals could include owners, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, racing association executives, state regulators, and jockeys.

The legislation noted that it would not alter the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which paved the way for interstate wagering that in 2014 accounted for 89.1% of U.S. pari-mutuel handle on Thoroughbred racing. The bill would use interstate wagering as a means to establish the authority of THADA; under the bill, states and tracks that don't grant THADA authority would be prohibited from offering interstate wagering.

The bill notes that for Olympic sports Congress has recognized USADA as an independent anti-doping organization "possessing a high-level of expertise and credibility in the development and administration of an anti-doping program."

The bill states USADA oversight will improve confidence of horseplayers in betting on the sport and horse buyers in participating in the sport. Under the bill, USADA regulation would be industry-funded.

The bill reads: "Uniform adoption of national anti-doping standards for Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States will promote interstate commerce, encourage fair competition and a level playing field, assure full and fair disclosure of information to purchasers of breeding stock and to the wagering public, will improve the marketplace for domestic and international sales of the American Thoroughbred, will provide a platform for consistency with all major international Thoroughbred horseracing standards, address growing domestic concerns over disparities with international rules, and provide for the safety and welfare of horses and jockeys."

Tygart noted that while federal action would be used to bring USADA into horse racing, his group is independent and the legislation would not mean the federal government is taking over medication regulation of the sport.

"We're not a federal organization," Tygart said. "We're a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo. We have an independent board of directors. Under this bill there would be no direct federal funding. So there's no interference, no formal oversight on decision-making authority by the federal government or any other governmental organizations.

"There's certainly no political involvement around decisions and that's really important—having an independent board."

The legislation immediately was praised by industry groups that already have begun to rally support under the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity banner. The coalition includes The Jockey Club, Breeders' Cup, the Water Hay Oats Alliance, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders.

Barr and Tonko noted that the coalition support will improve the chances of this bill passing. Tonko said the potential for the bill to improve the racing industry, which he said could add jobs under such a scenario, also would prove attractive to lawmakers considering its merits.

The country's largest horsemen's groups, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, have previously raised concerns about the much-discussed legislation, including that the bill could pave the way to end the race-day use of furosemide. The THA has helped rally support for the National Uniform Medication Program, a state-by-state effort to bring uniformity to medication rules.

"The National HBPA voices strong opposition to this proposed bill," said National HBPA chief executive officer Eric Hamelback, who noted uniform medication policy now is in place at tracks that account for about 70% of handle. "The National HBPA represents the largest group of horsemen within North America among its 30 affiliates. Each of the horsemen's groups are strong supporters of national uniformity in medication policies, and we all are aware of the significant progress made toward adopting uniformity."

Hamelback said his group will review the bill further and talk with any of its supporters. 

"However, we are opposed to any form of legislation that interferes with the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978," Hamelback said. "We plan to review and analyze the bill in order to understand the bill in its entirety. At that time we will be prepared to issue further statements to ensure we stand for, and protect, the rights empowered to all horsemen by the IHA."

State regulators have questioned the need for the bill following the efforts to establish uniformity in medication rules. Association of Racing Commissioners International president Ed Martin said his group, which shapes model rules for its member state regulators, will examine the bill but on first reaction has concerns.

"The ARCI is unanimous in its opposition to shielding racing regulatory authority from public accountability by putting it in the hands of a private organization," Martin said July 16. "We also note that the proposal provides absolutely no federal resources and not one cent of existing federal anti-doping monies to assist in chasing those who would dope horses."

Martin noted that leading state regulatory vets like Drs. Mary Scollay in Kentucky, Rick Arthur in California, and Scott Palmer in New York have been instrumental in improving the sport's safety in recent years.

"Equine welfare and medication policy should not be put in the hands of an entity with no experience with such matters and no veterinarian involvement," Martin said. "We strongly oppose the politicization of racing medication policies and are concerned that equine welfare policies will be trampled should this be enacted." 

Supporters of the legislation have suggested uniformity efforts among the states are works in progress and have taken too long to become reality. The bill would put USADA in charge of medication regulation Jan. 1, 2017.

Barry Irwin, chief executive officer of Team Valor International and a member of WHOA, and Matt Iuliano, Jockey Club executive director, were in Washington, D.C., July 16 to rally support for the legislation. Irwin said despite efforts to bring uniformity to the sport, rules and quality of testing continue to vary from state to state.

"Right now you have a crazy quilt set up where every state has their own rules, different penalties, different labs," Irwin said. "We need to bring uniformity in the form of an independent group that can just tie the whole thing together and give us harmony. I want to see a level playing field; we don't have a level playing field right now.

"The uniformity aspect of it, the independent nature of USADA, I think it's going to bring to this sport exactly what we need and restore confidence."

Iuliano believes the bill has a better chance of advancing than a similar bill proposed in 2013. He noted there is more support from various groups for the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015.

"We're quite hopeful because we have a coalition of industry supporters behind this that has not been present previously," Iuliano said. "We've had those members participate in the drafting process. We started down this path about 12 months ago. It has been a process of drafting that has been very collaborative.

"When you see support from the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the KTOB as well, and the Humane Society—you see this diversity of support. That plays very well to the legislators."

Iuliano said they'll work to gain support from the horsemen's groups now that the legislation is out there.

"Obviously we'd love to have their support on this," Iuliano said. "The foundation of this bill is based on principles of national uniformity that they support already. Hopefully it's a short distance that they'll have to travel to get from where they're at currently to become a member of this coalition."

Horsemen have been aware that the legislation was in the works and some raised concerns that it could be a means to eliminate the use of race-day furosemide (Salix, commonly called Lasix.) Horsemen's groups have supported furosemide use as a way of preventing or lessening the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

Language in the bill's introduction notes that it aims to achieve consistency with international Thoroughbred horse racing jurisdictions, including the use of race-day medication. Iuliano said that under the legislation THADA would ultimately make the call on such issues.

"As they develop those policies, they're required to look at a variety of sources," he said. "That includes international standards. That includes the Association of Racing Commissioners International uniform classification list. That includes the Racing Medication Testing Consortium, so all of those policies are in the universe of materials and subject matter that the regulatory authority is mandated to review and consider.

"The banning of Lasix specifically, with that as the backdrop, we've left to the wisdom and the composition of that regulatory entity."

The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity noted the support of industry-leading groups and the Humane Society.

"The coalition thanks Representatives Barr and Tonko for issuing this commonsense legislation," Breeders' Cup president Craig Fravel said in a statement. "It is immensely gratifying to see the results of earnest collaboration among such a broad range of stakeholders. This bill is designed to bring long-needed reforms to the medication rules in Thoroughbred racing and provide a new level of certainty and trust for our participants and fans.

"We applaud these members of Congress for their foresight in regard to the future of an industry that contributes billions of dollars and generates hundreds of thousands of jobs to the American economy."

"The horse racing industry needs a makeover, and this bill has the potential to deliver a new regulatory framework with a science-based program and provide better protection for all of the athletes involved," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States. "We are grateful to Representatives Barr and Tonko for wading into this debate, and we hope that they can find common ground with other lawmakers interested in racing reform to get a good, comprehensive bill over the finish line."

The coalition reports that recent studies show widespread support for legislation that would enable USADA to provide uniform drug and medication regulation. The coalition said five in six likely voters nationally (85%) support such reform, including 81% of Republicans, 86% of Democrats, and 87% of independent voters, according to a national survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland.

Wagering is the economic lifeblood of the sport, and the poll also showed such reform is supported by more than seven in 10 horse racing bettors.

Still, if the legislation is not supported by horsemen's groups, it may be difficult for legislators to back industry changes. Hours after the bill was introduced, the Kentucky HBPA sent out an email to other state HBPA affiliates encouraging their members to oppose the legislation, saying it would strip horsemen of rights.

The bill notes that the industry contributes $25 billion to the U.S. economy annually and generates 380,000 domestic jobs, with 38 states participating in pari-mutuel racing and American Thoroughbreds traveling and racing overseas in Europe and on growing racing circuits in Asia and the Middle East.

Some details in the bill provide insight into how funding would work. Each November, beginning in 2016 under the bill, USADA would present to each state racing commission the estimated amount required per racing starter to fund the Thoroughbred anti-doping program for the coming year. States would pay these fees on a monthly basis.

Also of note in the bill, USADA would not have the power to impose criminal sanctions and will not be considered an agent of the U.S. government or any state.

USADA could enter into agreements with state racing commissions to implement within their respective jurisdictions any of the components of the USADA anti-doping program if THADA determines a particular state racing commission will be able to implement a component of the anti-doping program in accordance with THADA standards.

Click here to view a copy of the bill.

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