93% Want Congressional Action on a National Anti-Doping & Safety Program
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Concern about racehorse safety and equine drug and safety issues among the public is sky high according to a new survey by Xenophon Analytics in Washington, D.C. The survey was conducted by polling a national database of people aware or interested in horse racing and issues impacting the industry.
In the survey, 78% of people were aware of the 2019 spike in equine fatalities, 61% were very aware of controversy over the use of medications in the horse racing industry with 83% believing that the problem was widespread and systematic.
It should receive widespread support considering that poll respondents supported a national system of equine medication control over the present system of separate state regulations by 95% to 5%.
The poll also showed strong support (94%) for racetrack safety programs, including the adoption of a national racetrack safety standards program and race-day and out-of-competition drug testing (93%).
“Sixty-nine percent of the people surveyed had a negative perception of the horse racing industry,” continued Fuscus. “But 67% also stated that their view would be improved by industrywide reforms related to anti-doping and equine safety.”
Xenophon Analytics’ Horse Racing Survey was taken nationally with a size of 3,116 respondents. The survey was conducted from Aug. 20, 2020, through Aug. 25, 2020, and has a margin of error of +/- 2%. The poll and data can be viewed on Xenophon’s website.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R.1754/S.4547) comes after the racing industry has been hit by a series of doping scandals and a rash of fatal breakdowns in recent years.
The Energy and Commerce committee in the U.S. House on gave bipartisan approval to legislation to create national standards for the horse racing industry to prevent fatalities and discourage illegal medication practices. The Senate's top Republican said he would press to pass the bill before the year is out. The 46-5 vote in a Democratic-controlled panel is a good sign for the bill's prospects.
“Our bill delivers commonsense medication and track safety standards that protect America’s horses and jockeys, needed progress that will put this popular and historic sport on track for a strong recovery and a bright future," said top sponsor Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., whose district is home to Saratoga Race Course, a premier racetrack.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose state is home to the country's top breeding outfits and the Kentucky Derby, introduced identical legislation with senior Democrats from California and New York, which also have top racetracks and breeding operations.
The “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act" comes after the racing industry has been hit by a series of doping scandals and a rash of fatal breakdowns in recent years. It is also struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, with tracks like Churchill Downs holding races — including last weekend's Kentucky Derby, delayed from May — without spectators.
Several top trainers were charged earlier this year with illegally doping their horses with performance-enhancing drugs, including Jason Servis, whose horse Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Derby but was disqualified for racing interference.
The legislation is aimed at empowering an independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority with federal recognition and enforcement power to set uniform standards for medication, track safety, and testing of horses for PEDs.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus isn’t thoroughbred racing’s only challenge. In recent years, tragedies on the track, medication scandals and an inconsistent patchwork of regulations have cast clouds over the future,” McConnell said in a floor speech.
While blue-blood racing organizations such as the Jockey Club and key racing circuits support the idea, McConnell has not attracted cosponsors from states like Florida, Louisiana and New Jersey, where some of the sport's scandals have occurred and where oversight is considered uneven at best. But Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce panel, is a strong supporter.
McConnell said in a brief hallway interview that the industry has long been plagued by disunity and that after reading a Washington Post editorial questioning whether racing should remain legal he told stakeholders “in the strongest possible way that they needed to get together or I would try to do it for them. And they did get together.” McConnell said he hopes to win passage of the legislation before the end of the congressional session and plans to discuss the topic with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Also at issue is a series of horse fatalities in California in recent years, which has garnered the industry bad press. The legislation faces challenges in the Senate, given the time crunch and potential opposition. But McConnell said he would press the issue in a post-election lame duck session.
Two top horses, including an Arkansas Derby winner, were found to have a numbing agent in their systems. The Arkansas Racing Commission suspended the Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert for 15 days on Wednesday and vacated the victories of two of his horses after they tested positive for a banned substance.
One of the horses, Charlatan, won a division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2. The colt’s owners will forfeit the $300,000 in prize money for finishing first. The owner of the other horse, a filly named Gamine, must forfeit a $36,000 first-place check won in an allowance race earlier that day. The suspension will run from Aug. 1 to 15.
On June 20, Gamine won the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in New York by nearly 19 lengths in a stakes-record time of 1 minute 32.55 seconds, a performance that inspired talk of the filly taking on males in the Kentucky Derby, which is scheduled for Sept. 5.
Baffert is America’s pre-eminent active trainer. He has won the Kentucky Derby five times. In 2015, he trained American Pharoah, the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Baffert won his second Triple Crown in 2018 with the colt Justify.
Lidocaine can be used legitimately for suturing wounds or as a diagnostic tool to determine if horses are sound enough to compete. The drug may also be present in ointments or creams used on cuts or abrasions. It is regulated because of its potential to mask lameness in an unsound horse.
In a hearing, Baffert and his representatives argued that the horses were accidentally exposed to the lidocaine by an assistant trainer, Jimmy Barnes, who had applied a medicinal patch to his own back. Barnes had broken his pelvis, and the brand of patch he used, Salonpas, contains small amounts of Lidocaine. The drug was transferred from his hands through the application of a tongue tie, they said.
A lawyer for Baffert, W. Craig Robertson, said the trainer was disappointed in the ruling and planned to appeal. In a statement, he said, “This is a case of innocent exposure and not intentional administration.”
Four days after Charlatan’s runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby, the colt’s stallion rights were sold for an undisclosed sum to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms. The colt missed the Belmont Stakes with an ankle injury, and Baffert has said he will miss the Kentucky Derby, as well. Charlatan may be able to come back in time for the Preakness on Oct. 3.
Baffert-trained Justify failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby, nearly a month before the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Justify wound up winning the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont that year for the Triple Crown. The rule on the books when Justify failed the test required that the horse be disqualified, forfeiting both his prize money from the Santa Anita Derby and his entry into the Kentucky Derby.
California racing officials investigated the failed test for four months, allowing Justify to keep competing long enough to win the Triple Crown. In August, after Justify’s breeding rights had been sold for $60 million, the California Horse Racing Board — whose chairman at the time, Chuck Winner, had employed Baffert to train his horses — disposed of the inquiry in a rare closed-door session.
The board ruled that Justify’s positive test for the banned drug scopolamine had been the result of “environmental contamination,” not intentional doping. Baffert has denied any wrongdoing, but the quantity of the drug found in Justify suggested that it was present not because of contamination in his feed or his bedding but rather because of an effort to enhance performance, according to Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018.
Mick Ruis, the owner of the second-place horse in the Santa Anita Derby, is in litigation with California officials to have his colt Bolt d’Oro declared the winner and awarded the $600,000 first-place check.
Source: New York Times