Udall Pushes for Anti-Doping Rules for U.S. Horseracing in U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Reauthorization Bill
Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), member of the Senate Commerce Committee, called again for Congress to act to ban doping in U.S. horse racing and secured passage of a related amendment during the Commerce Committee’s markup of legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the independent, national anti-doping organization for the U.S. Olympic teams.
In the same week that U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman brought federal indictments filed against 27 defendants in the Southern District of New York for “the most far-reaching prosecution of racehorse doping in the history of the Department of Justice,” the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously accepted Udall’s amendment to require USADA to report to Congress within 180 days about its capabilities to implement a horseracing anti-doping program and to make recommendations to Congress about how a successful program would be designed.
“My bill would empower USADA to act as the anti-doping organization for all horseracing. USADA would develop the anti-doping framework, education, testing, and adjudication programs. Penalties would include a “one and done” lifetime ban for most severe cases.”
This week, 11 trainers, seven veterinarians and nine drug suppliers and distributors were charged in an international racehorse doping scheme. The continued chronic abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in horseracing is commonplace and undermines the safety and viability of the sport. Drugged up with painkillers and performance-enhancing substances, racehorses can be pushed beyond their limits, leading to break downs with potentially fatal consequences for horses and jockeys.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart issued a statement on March 9, 2020 following the release of the federal indictments, saying “[w]ith the horse racing industry at a crossroads, the right thing to do is to remove the fox from guarding the henhouse and ensure there is an independent anti-doping body in place to protect the integrity of the sport and the safety of the horses.”
Udall’s amendments included:
As they've done in years past, The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) officially opposes the Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R.1754/S.1820). They also oppose legislation that would end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption (The SAFE Act). Joining them in opposing both of these vital equine welfare bills is The American Veterinary Medical Association.
On March 5, 2020 the AQHA released the following statement:
The Horseracing Integrity Act (HR 1754) was introduced into the United State House of Representatives in March 2019. The bill requires a “uniform anti-doping and medication control program to be developed and enforced by an independent horseracing anti-doping and medication control authority.”
While the American Quarter Horse Association is strongly committed to the welfare of the racehorse and supports industry reform to improve horse safety, the Association opposes the Horseracing Integrity Act in its current form.
AQHA is joined in opposition to this bill by other leading industry associations, such as the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and the United States Trotting Association.
Of particular concern to AQHA is the proposed elimination of race-day use of the medication furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, which is used to mitigate the occurrence of exercised-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in racehorses. Eliminating this effective therapeutic medication while lacking an alternative therapy would leave equine athletes vulnerable to serious medical conditions.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners currently supports Lasix as the only medication allowed to be administered on race day, although the association’s official position on HR 1754 is “monitor” due to “the greater goal of attaining uniformity of racing medication in the US.”
“The AAEP has long held a position that, at this time, Lasix is the only available method of management of EIPH,” says Dr. Kathleen Anderson, an AAEP past president, practicing veterinarian and expert witness who presented to Congress. “Until such time as there is a better or alternative approach, AAEP backs the use of race-day Lasix administration for the welfare of the horse.”
Dr. Anderson explains the use of Lasix as a preventive measure and suggests thinking of it as the equivalent to wearing a seatbelt in a car, as it either prevents or minimizes damage that might be caused by EIPH.
“You put a seatbelt on, and it protects you from possible car crash injuries,” Dr. Anderson said. “Lasix prevents horses from possible effects related to EIPH. It’s not meant to be a ‘vaccine,’ which would prevent future EIPH events. In this case, we believe that by administering it, we’re not inoculating it, we’re trying to manage the horses’ respiratory health by either preventing it or minimizing it. The consequences of EIPH without management or control can typically result in long-term respiratory health issues.”
There are numerous scientific studies providing evidence that the administration of Lasix improves the welfare of racehorses. According to research done by the ARCI Scientific Advisory Group, there is no current science linking the use of Lasix to musculoskeletal issues that may be a contributing case in catastrophic breakdowns.
In addition, this bill, unlike current regulations, does not address breed-specific rules that address the specific needs of the American Quarter Horse.
HR 1754 is also lacking details about funding sources that would sustain the proposal.
A review of 2018 post-race testing conducted by ARCI showed that 99.4 percent of the 258,920 tests conducted that year proved to be compliant with the rules of racing. Of those with violations, the vast majority were overages of therapeutic medications. Only 0.04 percent of all tests were found to have Class 1 or 2 substances (those most likely to the greatest effect on performance or those that might be considered “doping.”)
AQHA is dedicated to industry reform and works closely with international, national and state racing organizations and commissions to evaluate protocols that allow for uniform medication rules and strengthened deterrents to performance-enhancing drugs. This group includes the Association of Racing Commissioners International and Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which are working to create uniformity in medication rules.
Among the work AQHA has assisted on is out-of-competition testing efforts, the use of hair as a testing mechanism and beta-2 antagonist bans. In the five years since many of these rules have gone into effect in the majority of Quarter Horse racing jurisdictions, reported injuries in American Quarter Horses have dropped 16 percent.
AQHA is a strong supporter of reform and uniformity in racing, but for these reasons cannot support HR 1754 in its current form.
AFTER CALIFORNIA HORSE RACING BOARD REPORT ON SANTA ANITA, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JUDY CHU CALLS FOR STRONGER PROTECTIONS FOR HORSES
On Monday, the California Horse Racing Board released their annual report on horse racing in California for the 2019 calendar year. The report showed that nearly 90% of fatalities in 2019 were associated with pre-existing, undetected stress fractures. It also found that the dirt track at Santa Anita was responsible for four times as many fatalities as the turf track, despite holding only 30% more races. Among the report’s recommendations for curbing horse deaths are better veterinary record keeping, stricter regulations on the use of all medications, use of diagnostic imaging before a race, and a prohibition on racing on tracks deemed to be unsafe due to weather conditions, like the dirt track at Santa Anita. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), who represents Santa Anita, issued the following statement:
Finally, we cannot rely on a patchwork of regulations to solve this problem. Regulations recommended by the CHRB could save lives for horses outside of California as well, but because we lack a federal body to oversee horse racing, each state is free to set their own standards, contributing to America’s higher rate of horse deaths compared to other countries. That is why I was encouraged by last week’s hearing for H.R. 1754, the Horseracing Integrity Act in the Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation, which would establish a federal Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority to standardize safety and medication standards across the United States, is needed more than ever.”