Best Chance Yet - by Eric Mitchell

Mirroring the debate about medication use itself, the Thoroughbred racing industry is sharply divided over ongoing efforts to create a national medication monitoring and enforcement program through federal legislation.

Two bills have been filed with Congress, but the proposed Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), has been the quickest out of the gate in attracting support. This bill proposes to put an affiliate of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, to be called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority, in charge of all medication policy, testing, and enforcement for Thoroughbred racing nationwide.

Read more details about the relationship between THADA and USADA.

A group called the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity Agency, formed to promote this legislation, now counts among its members the Breeders' Cup; Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association; the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders; Meadowlands Racetrack; Tioga Downs; Vernon Downs; Centaur Gaming; the Humane Society of the United States; the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association; The Jockey Club; and the Water, Hay, and Oats Alliance.

These groups support the effort because it promises to create what the American racing industry has never had--one set of rules for every jurisdiction. Yes, progress has been made with the National Uniform Medication Program, but it is still a long way from uniform. Twelve states have adopted the rules for 26 controlled therapeutic medications, California has adopted 25 of 26, and Kentucky has adopted 24 of 26. Fourteen other states are in the process of adoption, and two have made no progress on just this one provision, according to the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium. The patchwork continues.

There are concerns about the federal legislation. Specifically, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association board wants a better system of checks and balances with THADA along with more specific remedies if something goes awry. The bill currently states THADA would be subject to review by the U.S. General Accountability Office, but TOBA and others would like to see THADA instead have a contract with an industry organization like it does with other sports governing bodies, such as USA Track and Field or USA Cycling. Others in the industry are concerned about the cost of operating THADA, a cost the states will bear based on their number of starters. And if a state does not pay its share and comply with the new medication rules, then it would lose its authority to send and accept simulcast signals.

These are legitimate concerns. They are also issues that can be resolved through industry involvement, debate, and negotiationno different than how any other piece of legislation is handled. What's critical is for everyone involved in Thoroughbred racing to be engaged in the process.

No bill is perfect, and no one will get everything they want. Collectively, however, the industry will create something better.

Most importantly, let's keep the goal in mind—a truly uniform medication monitoring and enforcement program that allows for the immediate adoption of updates across all racing states. No waiting on the snail's pace of legislators and committees. No continuation of the patchwork approach because one state doesn't like the thresholds of drugs X, Y, and Z, or may want to allow substances that may be banned in other jurisdictions. We also must have a more robust testing program in order to avoid some of the problems recently unearthed by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission (see "Upon Further Review" on page 28 of Sept. 26 issue of Blood-Horse).

Horsemen will say unequivocally they want a level playing field. Blood-Horse believes the THIA is our best chance yet to get one.

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