With the industry under intense scrutiny, an anti-doping bill for horse racing is advancing in Washington.
Outside Saratoga Race Course at the height of the summer meet in August, Representative Paul Tonko stumped for his Horseracing Integrity Act. The Democrat of New York’s 20th District has been pushing the legislation with Kentucky Republican Andy Barr since 2015.
“This common sense solution that will drive integrity into the equation; that will focus heavily and kindly on the equine athlete; and build support with the general community,” said Tonko.
The bill would create an anti-doping authority to craft and implement a set of uniform rules. The bill’s sponsors argue that a patchwork of regulations exists in the 38 states with horse racing.
Tonko recently announced that the legislation has secured 226 bipartisan co-sponsors, a majority of House members. A version in the Senate has 23 cosponsors. The bill is being supported by major race track operators including the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred tracks at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.
But at least one industry group is pushing back.
The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association released a video this week criticizing the bill and its banning of race-day medications. Much of the argument in the industry has centered around an anti-bleeding drug commonly known as Lasix.
National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback speaks in the video posted on YouTube.
“We’re proud to say thoroughbred racing is a very clean industry. Performance enhancing drugs are not tolerated, period. And we support swift, severe penalties for violations. But there are prominent voices within our industry that want to – without scientific evidence – outlaw race day Lasix, a therapeutic which prevents injury,” said Hamelback.
Critics say the drug allows horses to run more often and through pain, leading to injury.
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito joined Tonko at his August press conference. Zito predicted there would be pushback against rules governing the use of Lasix. But he remained optimistic for change.
“Do horses bleed? Of course they do. Is it going to take a long time? Yes. Yes. It’s going to take a long, long time. But something has to be done,” said Zito.
This month, as part of an effort between racetrack operators including the New York Racing Association, new voluntary rules on Lasix took effect. Two-year-old horses would be prevented from being treated with Lasix 24 hours before a race. Next year, that will apply to all horses in any stakes race. NYRA is also part of an effort announced in November 2019 called the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, an industry group that is calling for “medical, operational, and organizational reforms.”
A hearing on the Horseracing Integrity Act is set for January 28th in Washington, D.C.