NYRA Board Votes to Support Federal Anti-Doping Legislation

NYRA CEO and President Christopher Kay


The New York Racing Association Reorganization Board of Directors approved a resolution on Thursday to support federal legislation that would create a non-governmental racing regulatory organization to oversee the sport's medication standards and drug-policing efforts.

But the voice vote came after mixed, and at times, skeptical debate about the merits of such an endorsement, and included a last-second stipulation that NYRA wouldn't have to spend significant money to stand behind its resolution.

Two pieces of federal legislation were hot topics within the racing industry for the first half of 2015, but neither has moved forward in the United States Congress since being referred to subcommittees last summer.

HR 3084 is the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act. Its chief aim is to police Thoroughbred doping and medication abuse via the establishment of a racing regulatory organization headed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

HR 2641 is the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. It shares a similar anti-doping thrust by empowering USADA, but it differs in that it would prohibit the use of raceday medications, and its rules would additionally cover Quarter Horse and Standardbred racing.

The discussion at the NYRA meeting, though, was centered on HR 3084.

Prior to the vote, NYRA ex-officio member Rick Violette Jr., who separately serves as the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said “there's no question the horsemen are vehemently opposed to this.”

Violette instead expressed support for continued adherence to the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP). He separately suggested that NYRA should consider taking “a real leadership position” by including clauses in simulcasting contracts that would compel other jurisdictions to come into compliance with NUMP as a requirement for exchanging simulcast signals with NYRA.

“I think everybody should know that the legislation proposed has significant constitutional flaws,” Violette said. “It's a lot of money being spent on a very divisive issue. It has less than a 1 % chance of getting introduced, and it will be very difficult for the legislature down there to call hearings because of lack of interest. I think it's significantly wasted energy and money.”

Marc Holliday implored his fellow board members to consider whether support for federal oversight might actually be a step backward for New York racing.

“There are tracks in parts of the country that are running $5,000 claimers, [and] that isn't exactly the same as NYRA's racing quality running stakes and allowance races for several hundred thousand dollars a race,” Holliday said. “It's like night and day, and to think that we want to be a part of something that's going to have a standard that covers those other kind of races with purses under $10,000, might we be dragged down as opposed to sort of, you know, maintaining a best-of-class approach?”

NYRA Chief Executive Officer and President Chris Kay opted for a middle-ground position by suggesting that NYRA could continue to craft strong, state-run standards based on compliance with NUMP that might eventually dovetail with some future form of federal oversight.

“The answer is really both,” Kay said. “We've been working with the State of New York since I got here to try to adopt these model rules. It's taken a long time, but we are there. [Federal legislation] is in addition to that…I don't view them as mutually exclusive. I view them as two different avenues to the same goal.”

Board member Leonard Riggio was blunt in his assessment: “I don't think we have a choice but to support this as a gesture,” he said. “However, I have no belief in it. I think this is like swatting at butterflies.”

The motion that was eventually proposed was, “We basically resolve that we are in support of–endorse–the federal legislation on a go-forward basis, that NYRA's–our position–be that.”

As the motion was quickly seconded and a smattering of “ayes” affirming passage were uttered, Holliday offered an amendment.

“Let me just add to it,” Holliday said. “'At no significant cost to NYRA.' I think to address [Violette's] point, you know, let's support it, but let's not spend a lot of money on it. We don't think it has a high chance of getting [passed].” @thorntontd

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