Anti-doping bill would hurt horses and racing

Tracks such as Keeneland would be governed by uniform medication rules, including a ban on race day medication, under a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Paul Tonka, D-N.Y.
Tracks such as Keeneland would be governed by uniform medication rules, including a ban on race day medication, under a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Paul Tonka, D-N.Y. Herald-Leader file photo

I was disturbed to see an article in the Herald-Leader about the Barr-Tonko bill, federal legislation dealing with race-day doping of horses.

The article, written by a Washington reporter, was presented in a lopsided fashion and put out on the national wire as fact. Even worse, the local staff did not see through the false narratives in the article.

First and foremost, if I told you that over 90 percent of people who work with these horses every day support the use of Lasix for horses diagnosed with exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), would you feel that this article fairly represented that fact? I doubt it.

Would you refer to people who take medication for blood pressure or heart disease, prescribed by a physician, a doper or dope addict? I doubt it.

Lasix is a medication for blood pressure given by licensed veterinarians in all racing jurisdictions in North America to horses with EIPH. Why then would you promote the position that giving a horse Lasix is “doping?

Everyone I know in the horse business is vehemently opposed to cheating, drugging or doping horses. Very few of them are opposed to the humane and necessary therapeutic treatment of these great animals.

The article promotes the idea that medication rules in America are a “patchwork.” When all 28 U.S. racing jurisdictions permit the use of Lasix, is that a patchwork?

The fact is 100 percent of the racing jurisdictions have rules prohibiting the use of illicit drugs. I will yield the point that all laboratories are not equal, and thus post-race samples may be handled in different manners in varying jurisdictions. Would it not make more sense to harmonize laboratory procedures?

I have met with U.S. Rep. Andy Barr about this, but instead his group elected to blindside the racing and veterinary communities with this unsupportable bill.

The folks behind the Barr-Tonko bill have only one major goal: a complete ban on Lasix. This measure could actually jeopardize the racing industry and subsequently the breeding industry.

The article states “a group that represents veterinarians who treat racehorses opposed the bill.” Actually many groups oppose the bill, groups representing the vast preponderance of horse people.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners supports Lasix administration by racing commission veterinarians, called third-party Lasix. The North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians opposes the bill. The Association of Racing Commissioners International and other groups do not support the bill.

People who work with the animals on a daily basis understand its myriad flaws. It is the classic rendition of the boots versus the suits. Many of the groups mentioned above have worked with Barr to try to make a real difference for racing but the people promoting this bill are politically powerful.

I find it interesting that there is no mention that the Jockey Club, racing’s privately held monopoly on Thoroughbred registration, is the primary promoter of the bill.

In closing, let me restate that every person and organization I have been in contact with supports safe clean drug-free racing. The issue is defining what constitutes “drug free.” Racing in America works in one of the most highly regulated and tested environments in the world.

I am no Luddite, denying the real issues facing racing. There are many and they are serious. I work on these issues in good faith everyday. I work on them for my clients, my patients and my own animals. The Barr-Tonko bill is a step backward, creating more bureaucracy and failing to address racing’s real issues.

I expect my local paper to do better than print one-sided propaganda. Even more importantly, I expect national news organizations to fulfill their obligations to be truthful and accurate.

Andrew M. Roberts, a veterianian, owner, breeder and trainer of racehorses, has been a member of the Kentucky Racing Commission Equine Drug Research Council since 2008 and is past president of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners.