No race-day meds, more feds in horse racing under new bill backed by Barr

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-NY.
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-NY.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr filed a bill Thursday that would ban race-day medication for Thoroughbreds, quarter horses and standardbred horses and create more federal oversight of uniform medication rules at every racetrack in the nation.

Barr, R-Lexington, introduced the bill with co-sponsor Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York who represents the district that includes Saratoga Springs.

“With growing momentum and support, the time has come for uniform medication rules in American horse racing,” Barr said. “Uniform rules will ensure the integrity and competitiveness of American horse racing and lay the groundwork for the future success of this great American sport.”

Barr and Tonko have introduced less expansive legislation dealing with medication rules in the past, but this time have enlisted the support of Frank Stronach, whose Stronach Group owns Santa Anita Park in California, Pimlico Race Course in Maryland and Gulfstream Park in Florida. Those tracks offer some races that are free of Lasix, the only race-day medication now allowed at most tracks.

Barr called the race-day medication ban “the Stronach amendment.”

The bill would grant the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency authority to ensure all racing jurisdictions have the same rules, testing and enforcement. Currently, racing in most states is overseen by independent racing commissions, which have different standards and rules for everything from racing to medication. Barr said the program would be run under the Federal Trade Commission, which can enforce rules between states.

The bill “values the equine athletes,” Tonko said. “Without that epicenter of the industry being respected, we don’t have a sound sport or a sound industry.”

The proposal directly addresses racing’s conflict over furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, which is used to prevent bleeding in racehorses. However, some people think it affects the performance of racehorses. U.S. tracks have gone back and forth over the rules for administration. All race-day medication, including Lasix, is banned in Europe.

The legislation is supported by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Jockey Club and Keeneland. However, key players such as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the American Quarter Horse Association and the U.S. Trotting Association are not yet on board.

In 2012, the USTA supported use of Lasix on race day. On Thursday, USTA officials said they could not comment on the bill’s specifics because they hadn’t seen it.

“But regarding uniform medications, the USTA is on record supporting separate uniform medication rules for separate breeds because of the differences in the racing models,” said Dan Leary, the USTA director of marketing and communication.

Officials at the AQHA, which has 250,000 members worldwide, declined to comment.

Marc Guilfoil, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, declined to comment on the legislation because his board has not yet taken a stand.

He said the Lasix debate has roiled the industry for years.

“If we could ever get the Lasix issue settled, we’d be able to move forward with a lot of things in this industry,” he said. “It’s been a polarizing issue on both sides. We need to get it out of the way and get it settled.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford