by JANE ALLIN
On July 16, 2015 Congressmen Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), the co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus, introduced the bipartisan Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (H.R. 3084).
The rationale behind the legislation is to establish a solitary, impartial organization that would create and enforce uniform national anti-doping regulations for Thoroughbred racing.
Currently the industry operates under a diversity of inconsistent rules that govern medication policies and practices across 38 fragmented and dysfunctional racing jurisdictions in the U.S.
Under the direction of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – a non-profit, non-governmental anti-doping authority – a national uniform medication program, with input from the Thoroughbred racing industry, would be established to encourage fair competition and a level playing field across state lines.
According to Cot Campbell – the pioneer of high-profile racing syndicates – and of course the bill’s stated goal, not only would it fulfill the need for uniform regulations, it would magically restore the face of American racing and ultimately bring it in line with the rest of the world.
“A national medication program, developed and administered by this agency can quickly bring rigor, consistency and greater integrity to Thoroughbred racing.
It would provide renewed confidence to trainers, veterinarians and fans while bringing the U.S. up to the level of other international racing jurisdictions.”
Well I hate to burst the old guy’s bubble but there is a glaring problem with this legislation.
While I am in total agreement that uniform regulations and the need for industry reform is long overdue, what this bill fails to address is the very crux of what is wrong with American racing.
There is absolutely no reference to curtailing the compendium of medications currently on the permitted list nor does it focus on the ever-present issue of race-day drugs. I hardly think that this will “bring the U.S. up to the level of other international racing jurisdictions.”
And despite the fact that the bill would create an entity called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority (THADA) comprised of six USDA representatives (CEO and board members) and five at-large directors nominated by the USADA from the Thoroughbred industry itself, THADA’s control will be limited.
“THADA officials, according to the bill, would have the same authority as state racing commission officials do to investigate and test for doping and therapeutic medication violations on commission-regulated properties. But the language of the bill specifically states that THADA’s powers end there, and do not include any investigations into criminal conduct or other wrongdoings that a state commission might police on its own.”
The bill does allow for some leeway and inclusion for state racing commissions to either take on some aspects of the new testing or to work in concert with THADA authorities in their states.
Under a “Duty of Cooperation” section of the legislation, THADA may determine that if states demonstrate regulatory competency, “a particular state racing commission will be able to implement a component of the Thoroughbred horse racing anti-doping program in accordance with the standards and requirements established” by THADA.
“In other words, there’s an opportunity for state racing authorities to maintain their control over the medication issues if they desire, but they obviously have to be implementing the national uniform program,” Barr said.
A slippery slope indeed.
Let’s be honest. This legislation does little to change the face of racing in the U.S.
Its sole function is to award a central organization – one that, in essence, will be controlled by the racing industry itself under the false pretense that the USADA will be the regulatory body – the power to deal with cheating on a more uniform platform. That’s it.
The cheating will continue despite uniform medication rules. Uniformity isn’t the issue, enforcement is. And if nothing changes on that front then it’s business as usual. All this legislation provides is a smokescreen under the false guise that the industry actually cares.
As a commenter (Peyton) on a Paulick Report article regarding the proposed legislation succinctly points out:
“The logic behind thinking that uniform medication will fix racing is akin to thinking that if all states had the same speed limit then there would be fewer speeding violations. Speeding is speeding and drugging is drugging.”
It is merely desperation coming from an industry fraught with corruption and addicted to the status quo. It’s not about the horse; it’s all about placating the racing industry and allowing this depraved sport to continue without regard to the exact creatures that enable it – effectively hostages of a gambling industry.
What’s really disheartening is how the racing industry pulled this coup on the very people who fervently want reform, in particular WHOA (Water, Hay, Oats Alliance) – a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing. http://www.waterhayoatsalliance.com/
In fact when the Barr-Tonko bill was introduced to congress in July, Gretchen Jackson, one of the founders of WHOA, voiced her dissatisfaction, lamenting the fact that WHOA and other organizations were duped by this legislation that effectively keeps the racing industry in control.
“Yesterday a bill to unify Thoroughbred horse racing rules was introduced to congress. It was a positive step in the right direction–it had the backing of The Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup and WHOA, the grassroots movement to end all raceday medications.
While it was an attempt to clean up racing and establish U.S. racing as congruous with the rest of the world, it failed to eliminate raceday drugs. The rest of the world bans raceday drugs.
WHOA was created by George Strawbridge, Julia Jenkins, Staci and Arthur Hancock, Paul and Melissa Sullivan and Roy and Gretchen Jackson. We all trained to Washington to meet with congressmen and senators to implore their help before our beloved sport imploded from chemicals. We worked hard and none worked harder than the Hancocks.
Congressman Pitts and Senator Udall heard us and wrote a very powerful bill that they introduced before congress several months ago. This bill states that race day drugs will not be tolerated. USADA will be in charge of running the testing–random, out-of-raceday testing will be in place and, most importantly, the bill would place American horse racing on par with the rest of the world and its standards.
To sum up my feelings and thoughts about WHOA at this point: WHOA without consent of all its founding members, and advisory board, has signed up and supports the wrong bill. If other members are disappointed and confused I share their stance”.
The Pitts-Udall bill Jackson is referring to is the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 2641) which failed to pass in 2014 but was reintroduced on June 3, 2015 . https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2641/text
An excellent side-by-side comparison of the Pitts-Udall Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 2641) and the Barr-Tonko Thoroughbred Racing Integrity Act (HR 3084) was provided to the Horse Fund by JoAnne Normile, author of the best-selling book “Saving Baby”, the poignant, life-changing story of how one woman’s love for a racehorse led her to redemption. http://www.savingbaby.com/
Clearly these bills are in stark contrast – one calls for sweeping changes to medication regulations across the entire corrupt and dysfunctional racing industry in the U.S., the other? Not so much. In fact, HR 3084 contains some controversial details.
For one, if the USADA withdraws what’s left to regulate the industry? Why of course the racing industry itself – back to square one, exactly where the racing industry wants it to be.
Secondly, and more alarmingly, are the words “Permissive industry “model rules” for medication become federal law”, meaning that once enacted the tolerated use of all of these questionable drugs will become the edict of the Thoroughbred racing industry – no turning back or at the least very difficult to undo in the future.
What’s more, if this is the case then the fate of American racing is sealed – it will never, ever achieve a level equivalent to that of international jurisdictions. Just more of the same rhetoric and illicit drug use that continues to kill horses at an unprecedented rate.
But there is yet another dark side to all of this, one that most in the industry don’t consider to be a problem contributing to its ruin but rather use it to their advantage to promote this so-called “sport”; the gambling component and the fact that without the wagering public horse racing in North America would cease to exist.
This aspect of the racing industry is part of the propaganda this legislation addresses.
It would have would have you believe that implementing a national uniform medication program will improve interstate “commerce” by “encouraging fair competition and a level playing field across state lines, assuring full and fair disclosure of information to purchasers of breeding stock and to the wagering public and provide for the safety and welfare of horses and jockeys.”
The way this legislation is written it is unlikely that it will improve the safety and welfare of the horses and jockeys – the trainers and vets will still be using the same “therapeutic medications” they always have in dangerous combinations either as performance enhancers or pain-masking agents.
But no doubt it will cast the illusion that things are on the level when it comes to wagering and thereby fatten the purse so-to-say. Exactly what the doctor ordered.
In fact, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pa), co-sponsors of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 2641) introduced in early June, also introduced legislation on April 30, 2015 that would see the elimination of most wagering on horse racing by repealing the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 which permits “off-track” and online wagering.
“It’s time to crack down on corruption by ending horseracing’s sweetheart gambling privileges. We must stop the abuse and restore integrity to this once-dignified sport. Despite years of promises of reform, horseracing groups have been unable to come together to develop uniform rules that protect both horses and the integrity of the sport. This legislation will end a federal exception for gambling on horseracing. Since 2008, over 7,000 race horses have died on America’s racetracks. It’s past time to put measures in place that protect racehorses from abuse at the track.”
The two bills are named in honor of horses who died while competing in races with interstate, off-track wagering authorized under the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978; (1) Teller All Gone Horse-racing Deregulation Act of 2015 (S. 1174) and; (2) Coronado Heights Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015 (H.R. 2182).
Teller All Gone was an American Quarter Horse who on September 3, 2011, during the fourth race of his life, broke down, after breaking a front leg. He was euthanized on the track then his body dragged off behind a barn, where he was dumped on top of the dirt next to an old toilet and some used surgical gloves.
Coronado Heights, a 4-year old Thoroughbred trained by Todd Pletcher, whose records show had “early degenerative joint disease,” suffered a fatal breakdown at Aqueduct after receiving 13 injections for pain and cartilage damage in the month before his race.
This is the real face of American racing.
Of course the reception to these bills by the racing industry was not well taken. Here is the response from the NTRA (North American Thoroughbred Association):
“The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) strongly opposes this most recent attack on horseracing by Sen. Udall and Rep. Pitts, who have introduced federal legislation that threatens to destroy the economic viability of the $26 billion horseracing industry and the 380,000 jobs it supports nationwide.
“This bill is a shameless publicity stunt that mischaracterizes one of the nation’s most highly regulated sports, ignores the significant progress the industry has achieved at the state level in recent years through widespread adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program, and unfairly disparages thousands of people who work every day to make horseracing as safe and fair as possible for all participants.”
Unashamedly it’s all about the bottom line.
Jo Anne Normile, author of ”Saving Baby” (http://www.savingbaby.com/) speaks the truth regarding the gambling component of American racing in her response to a blog written by Wayne Pacelle (President and CEO of HSUS), supporting Thoroughbred Racing Integrity Act (HR 3084) and declaring that racing can be made “humane”. The HSUS is part of the coalition in support of the Barr-Tonko Bill.
“Horse racing is a form of gambling pure and simple. Take away the gambling component and the whole thing collapses. Horse racing has been on the decline (just check out the Jockey Club Online Fact Book) for decades. People were so disinterested in attending every day races that they had to have a federal law passed allowing them to simulcast their races for gambling across state lines — the only gambling entity allowed to do this.
Despite these offsite wagers now comprising 90% of their gambling intake, they began whining about state lotteries and casinos so then they were allowed to have slot machines or “racinos” or free-standing casinos began giving them handouts and inflating purses to the point Stevie Wonder can see the horses racing are lame yet the track veterinarians legally required to do pre-race lameness exams cannot find anything wrong with them.
The three racing stewards who are also to protect the horses and integrity of this gambling game? They were nicknamed eons ago “The Three Blind Mice”.
Racing is not a sport. It is not in the Olympics like seven other equestrian sports. It is a gambling business that uses live animals instead of decks of cards or dice but destroys them as callously and if the HSUS cared about “putting the horse first”, they would be supporting SB 1174-The Teller All Gone Deregulation Act of 2015 and HR 2182-The Coronado Heights Deregulation Act of 2015, and they would strive to take away slot machines and casino subsidies (that could be going to much-needed education or state infrastructure improvements instead of propping up gambling on horses!!) and see if this is like “other major American sports” and if so, it will survive and if not like “other major American sports” it will die like its horses now do. Anyone want to handicap that one?”
I’m with JoAnne all the way.
In any case, let’s be honest. A bill such as this (Thoroughbred Racing Integrity Act H.R. 3084) is a clear indication that most within the racing industry really don’t want to clean it up – at least not clean it up in terms of the welfare of the horse.
If you read between the lines it’s all about increasing the “commerce” – making it more “just” for the gambler – and even then a thinly veiled diversion. There is nothing “ethical” about it. Seriously, failing to address the core of the issue – drugs – is simply a misguided attempt at trying to hoodwink the public.
If the endeavor was earnest there would be sanctions put on the types and number of medications allowable in addition to abolishing race day drugs. It is time for the witch doctors to be held accountable – and that means not just the trainer, but the veterinarians and the owners, each and every one of them. Surely if the owners shared the disgrace then they would police the trainers.
And as anyone remotely involved with racing knows, cheating is widespread in the industry. Compounding the issue is that the richest in the game can afford the best chemists. Many of the elite trainers are the biggest offenders and the repercussions of getting caught? Swept under the rug – accidental, coincidence, contamination.
Without a doubt the insurmountable problem is that drugs are inextricably entwined with racing here in North America. Mesmerized by the veterinary industry, the American racing community has “cult devotion” to “necessary and humane” medication which steps beyond the boundaries of ethical conduct.
One need only look at the ludicrous Lasix debate which ignores the fact that most racing around the globe is Lasix-free. In fact it’s hard to take any legislation of this type seriously when it fails to address the Lasix issue, which, as much as any other medication, compromises both horses and integrity under the false guise of treating horses that bleed.
Despite how urgently the need for change is, this legislation will not be the answer.
All it manages to do is kick the ball back into the racing industry’s court while at the same time making it appear that the Federal government is in charge and will inexplicably solve all the sordid problems of a game gone wrong.
No. Change is not on the horizon for American racing because pulling back the covers to reveal the beast that thrives beneath those covers is simply too terrifying.
YOU BET. THEY DIE.
© The Horse Fund
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