Steps Toward Integrity - by Eric Mitchell

Several issues and questions have surfaced following the introduction July 15 of federal legislation that would authorize the United States Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent organization to oversee medication regulation in Thoroughbred racing.

Rather than attempt to tackle all the questions in a single column, we’ve decided to start with just a couple.

The goal of the legislation, called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act, is to implement one set of rules nationwide under the auspices of a single authority, a USADA agency to be called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority (THADA). To ensure compliance, the legislation attaches the THADA program to the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which is the federal law authorizing interstate simulcasting that now accounts for about 85% of all money wagered on horse racing. The Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act would require every racing state to adopt THADA’s rules and regulations if it wanted to continue offering and accepting simulcast wagers. The bill has been co-sponsored by Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).

Requiring adherence to THADA’s rules in order to offer simulcasting is a big problem for the two largest horsemen’s organizations in the country, both of which oppose the legislation: the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

It appears to remove all state authority regarding simulcasting. Period,” said Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National HBPA. “There is not enough security that (THADA) won’t just turn off the ability to simulcast as it sees fit. Whenever you’re trumping state authority with federal authority, we think that is a problem.”

These horsemen’s groups advocate the continued adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program, which is gradually spreading across racing states. Through July 7, 15 states have adopted the NUMP’s Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule, and 10 have adopted the multiple medication violation penalty system. In essence, NUMP advocates argue the control of medication rules and ultimately the control over simulcasting authority belong with the states.

There are some inconsistencies with this stance, however.

Virtually everyone in racing agrees the industry needs uniformity in medication rules, penalties, and enforcement. While the NUMP has made progress, individual states are still tweaking the rules to suit themselves. There are additional issues with laboratory standards, which are affected by how much states are willing to spend. Indiana recently terminated its contract with Truesdail Laboratories after it failed to call positives in seven samples that contained drugs in violation of the state’s rules, including the Class I drug methylphenidate, which is known by the brand Ritalin.

We are still a long way from uniformity.

If the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act becomes law, then THADA would handle all medication regulation, testing protocols, lab accreditation, compliance, enforcement, and identify critical research projects. The non-profit corporation would be governed by a board made up of five individuals representing a cross-section of Thoroughbred racing industry shareholders (breeders, owners, trainers, racetrack owners, veterinarians, jockeys, etc.).

Regarding THADA and the rights granted by the IHA, the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act doesn’t change anything. The IHA currently requires an agreement to exist among three parties before simulcasting can occur: the state regulatory body, the racing association (racetrack), and the recognized horsemen’s representative. These three parties all retain their rights under the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act. THADA’s regulations would become one more condition that must be met, no different than the medication rules that already must be followed, even under NUMP. Instead, the rules would not be enforced at the state level but by an independent agency with the authority to create a level playing field across all states without exceptions.

Horsemen already have to comply with medication rules. The racetracks must adhere to medication rules in order to retain their pari-mutuel licenses, and most racing states have shown the will to adopt better, consistent rules. Only a few states have taken no action toward adopting some aspect of NUMP.

“Let’s consider the customer,” said Matt Iuliano, executive vice president and executive director of The Jockey Club. “Customers are betting on horse races, knowing those races are subject to varying medication rules. We know the races they want to spend their money on depend on those medication rules. We’re leveling the playing field for all our races.”

Keeping medication rules and enforcement at the state level will perpetuate inconsistency. If uniformity is really the goal, then it’s time to put the rules and enforcement into the hands of a single, creditable organization that can provide it. 


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