Federal intervention is the only way horse racing can resolve issues surrounding equine medication use, drug testing, and sufficient investigatory programs, an attorney said May 2 during the University of Kentucky Equine Law Conference at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.
Ned Bonnie, also a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) with experience in racing and the horse show world, indicated he was involved in preparation of legislation that would provide federal regulation of horse racing in regard to medication and drug testing. His talk came a day after several members Congress announced plans to introduce a bill the week of May 5.
Bonnie said that about 30 years ago he lobbied federal lawmakers not to get involved because the industry can regulate itself. He said the industry’s track record has proved him wrong, yet most industry groups oppose involvement by the federal government.
Bonnie solicited comments from various organizations earlier this year in advance of developing a bill himself.
"The response was consistent and unanimous: ‘Don’t do it to us,’ " Bonnie said. "Well, we’ve been there, done that. We are now where we were 30 years ago. We’re still getting headlines. We are protectors of the horse, and protectors of owners, but the system is slowly but surely going down the tubes."
The proposed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would place the independent United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in charge of developing rules regarding "substances, methods, and treatments that may not be administered" to racehorses, and those that can be given to horses "in the context of a veterinarian-client-patient relationship," according to a draft of the bill. It would ban all drugs within 24 hours of a race, with a two-year phase-out of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide (also known as Salix or Lasix) in horses three years old or older.
The draft bill, released by Democratic New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, doesn’t mention the Interstate Horseracing Act (IHA), but it states any host racing association can engage in interstate pari-mutuel wagering only with consent from the USADA. There is no explanation of how that would work in light of existing federal law–the IHA and the Wire Act.
Bonnie said he developed his own bill and has made recommendations to Udall’s office. Bonnie proposes amending the IHA to mandate that one-half of 1% of off-track pari-mutuel handle be used for medication-related issues including heightened security; he said that would raise about $40 million a year.
"The funding is critical to the success," Bonnie said. "The Udall bill puts the (cost) on the host racing association. I suggested to (Udall’s office) in the last 48 hours that the pain has to be shared by every beneficiary of the IHA. I don’t know whether they will listen to me or not."
Amendment of the IHA, which governs horsemen’s rights in the transmission of racing signals across state lines and also advance deposit wagering, is dimly viewed by most in the racing industry.
"My bill is an amendment to the IHA," Bonnie said. "Anyone who wants to take me on is in danger. We need to thoughtfully consider the facts."
Bonnie, who noted his comments represent his personal opinions and not those of the KHRC, cited the progress horse racing has made, particularly through the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which he called "the best-developed method we’ve seen." But he said more must be done.
"The problem is (drug testing) is based on a post-race sampling technique," Bonnie said. "In horse racing 98% of the drugs they find are violations of use of therapeutic drugs. We have a system that fails in many respects to face up to what causes the bad publicity.
"The drug compounders and the veterinarians have figured out how to cheat by outsmarting post-race and out-of-competition testing. When the money shows, the cheaters show. We need to be as smart as or smarter than they are. We need to bring sophisticated analysis to the table."
Bonnie said racing is lagging in the areas of barn area security and regulatory investigators. He noted the KHRC has a security chief and two employees, which he believes is insufficient.
"We have neither the system nor the budgets in state legislatures to fund investigations of substance," Bonnie said. "We have a failed system; we need to find something new."
The draft bill from Udall’s office states the USADA would ensure costs for a drug program are defrayed, but it offers no specifics.