By Jennie Rees
The Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives appears stalled, without a sponsor and companion bill in the Senate to date, faces constitutionality issues raised by the Congressional Research Service and lacks co-sponsors on the committee with jurisdiction, the lobbyist for the largest coalition of owners and trainers said Saturday.
“They’ve had a very difficult time moving their bill,” Brian Fitzgerald, government relations liaison for the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, told state affiliates convened at the HBPA winter convention at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. “At this point, it appears they are stalled.”
Fitzgerald said from conversations on Capitol Hill, “It’s clear that the commerce committee that has jurisdiction over this bill is not interested in pursuing a hearing. They don’t think it’s risen to that level.”
The Coalition for Horseracing Integrity was created last May 29 to push passage of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, which is strongly opposed by the HBPA. Coalition members include The Jockey Club, Keeneland, Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association, the Water Hay Oats Alliance, Breeders’ Cup, Humane Society of the United States and its Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
The bill, introduced last July 16 by Representatives Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), would establish a uniform anti-doping program for Thoroughbred racing that would be developed and enforced by an independent authority, presumed to be the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The coalition says federal oversight and a national independent authority over rule-making, testing and enforcement regarding drugs and medications is necessary because of the lack of uniformity among states and internationally. The group contends such federal legislation is the only way to adequately protect horses.
The National HBPA and its state affiliates, collectively the largest group of Thoroughbred owners and trainers in North America, and the Association of Racing Commissioners International, comprised of racing regulatory bodies, oppose the legislation. The HBPA also opposes any legislation that would bring changes to the seminal Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 that provides horsemen the right of approval for simulcasting.
Countering the claim that federal legislation and private oversight of medication rules and testing is needed, the groups contend that such authority more appropriately belongs with state entities and that great strides have been made toward implementing similar medication rules among racing jurisdictions, citing the rapid movement to eliminate anabolic steroids a few years ago.
They also say that USADA has no expertise in horse racing, was slow to detect Lance Armstrong’s rules violations and has its own issues, including in boxing.
“The other thing, the amount of tests that are being done now [in horse racing], what they do doesn’t even come close to that,” Fitzgerald said in a brief interview after the session. “The few tests they are doing and the amount of money they spend, it would bankrupt our industry.”
Fitzgerald said Representatives Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Tom Udall (D-MN) requested a legal analysis last fall of the bill from the Congressional Research Service, which found constitutional questions.
Fitzgerald said that as of Friday evening the bill had only 20 co-sponsors, with only two on the committee of jurisdiction.
“You can interpret that as there not being enough members on the committee for support,” he said. “The Congressional Research Service report may have backed off [some] members when they looked at it because of their constitutional concerns.”
The Coalition for Horseracing Integrity has said that it’s hopeful the Barr-Tonko bill will get a committee hearing this spring.
Indeed, Fitzgerald emphasized that he expects the coalition to keep pushing for such federal legislation, including working on a sponsor and legislation in the Senate.
Later at the convention, Dr. Clara Fenger, a Central Kentucky veterinarian and HBPA member, gave an update on the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians that she helped found in 2014 to represent practitioners working with active racehorses.
Fenger said the veterinarians in the trenches are being unfairly portrayed as uncaring cheaters, not highly-educated professionals working hard for the welfare of their clients’ horses.
She made a plea for horsemen’s organizations to find funding for thorough and relevant research projects to determine appropriate thresholds and testing levels in therapeutic medications for racehorses, including those sponsored by NAARV’s associated non-profit Equine Health and Welfare Alliance.