Horse Racing Drug Bill Introduced by Congressmen

Two members of Congress introduced legislation May 4 authorizing penalties for those caught using performance-enhancing drugs in racehorses.

The Federal Trade Commission would enforce the provisions of the bill offered by Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico. Udall indicated the week of April 24 that legislation would be introduced before the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, which will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

The bill calls for amendment of the Interstate Horseracing Act (IHA) of 1978, which authorizes the transmission of signals across state lines for wagering purposes. The law gives various parties a say in such transmissions but covers no other areas of horse racing or pari-mutuel wagering, which are regulated at the state level.

The first violation calls for a fine of at least $5,000 and a suspension of at least 180 days; a second violation results in a fine not less than $20,000 and a suspension not less than one year; and for a third offense, a fine not less than $50,000 and a permanent ban from horse racing.

The two lawmakers allege in a statement that "permissive medication rules have resulted in some unscrupulous trainers giving horses painkillers and other drugs to improve their chances of success without regard for health or safety."

Industry officials repeatedly have said the percentage of positive calls for such drugs is negligible, and that equine drug testing in the United States is the best in the world. Most of the positives are for legal, therapeutic medications used on race day or a few days before.

Udall and Whitfield claim illegal drug use is rampant in U.S. horse racing.

"Chemical warfare is rampant on American racetracks, and unlike other countries, our law does not reject this unscrupulous practice," Udall said in a statement. "A racehorse has no choice when it comes to using performance-enhancing drugs, but this legislation takes away that option from those who would subject these magnificent animals to such abuse for gambling profit. Those involved in horse racing will have to play by the rules or face getting kicked out of the sport."

The legislation introduced in the House of Representatives is co-sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican; Rep. Ben Chandler, a Kentucky Democrat; and Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat.

The topic of federal intervention came up during the University of Kentucky Equine Law Conference in Lexington May 4.

Attorney Joel Turner, who also has a trainer's license, acknowledged some in horse racing are "worried about opening a Pandora's box" when it comes to tinkering with the IHA. But he also said Thoroughbred racing is "suffering enormously."

"I've read (the bill) and wish I had been consulted and had the opportunity to make it a little different," Turner said. "I'm not certain it's going to get the job done but it's certainly a wake-up call."

Bob Elliston, president of the Northern Kentucky racetrack Turfway Park, said he prefers regulation on a state-by-state basis but it is incumbent upon the racing industry to show it can reach consensus on solutions.

"If we can't get it done, I'm not afraid of federal intervention," Elliston said. "If we can't get it done, I'll listen to a federal solution, but give us a shot to do it. If we can't do it, then shame on us."

Elliston also is executive chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which in the past has opposed federal regulation of horse racing.

Members of Congress weren't the only ones to use Kentucky Derby week as a platform. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) held a press conference in Louisville, Ky., May 4 to call for The Jockey Club to adopt a "concrete plan to safeguard the future" of ex-racehorses.

PETA wants The Jockey Club, which already is involved in various racehorse retirement programs, to adopt what it calls the "Thoroughbred 360 Lifecycle Fund," which would require owners and breeders to pay $360 each time a foal is registered. The money would be used for retirement programs.

PETA said about $20 million a year would be raised.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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