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Bill introduced to charge USADA with drug regulation

Several racing industry groups have launched a coalition in support of a federal lawmaker's plan to introduce legislation that would provide oversight of equine medication and drug testing.

The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity currently includes Breeders' Cup, The Jockey Club, the Water Hays Oats Alliance, and the Humane Society of the United States. The organizations were named by U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat who on May 29 unveiled his plan to introduce legislation that would put the United States Anti-Doping Agency in charge of rule-making, regulation, and testing for equine medication in Thoroughbred racing.

The coalition also launched a website, click here.

"It is USADA's hope that the model of independence and national harmonization envisioned through this legislation can be realized for the long-term good of this sport," USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said in a release. "As we have done with other sports, USADA would be focused on creating a robust program that can protect the rights of competitors and the integrity of competition."

Tygart was the guest of WHOA at an information meeting last summer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and has been working with industry groups on the medication issue for some time. That same week at The Jockey Club Round Table, The Jockey Club said it would pursue federal advocacy for a medication oversight program.

"The racing industry has taken thoughtful and significant steps toward medication reform in recent years, and we believe that the creation of this coalition demonstrates widespread support for further changes -- changes that can be made in a more timely fashion," Jockey Club president and chief operating officer James Gagliano said. "We deeply appreciate Congressman Tonko's willingness to help us bring about reform."

"The creation of this coalition now provides all interested parties with a unique opportunity to support a single, national approach to medication, drug testing, and penalties with strong, independent oversight and enforcement," WHOA co-founder Arthur Hancock III said.

The legislation, called the Thoroughbred Horse Anti-Doping Act of 2015, has been in the works for months. Supporters believe it to be far more palatable than legislation released by two other members of Congress a few days before the Kentucky Derby.

U.S. Sen Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania announced a bill that would end interstate simulcasts to encourage horse racing to take action to end what they allege is widespread doping and cheating. The bill, which hasn't moved, was heavily panned by multiple racing industry organizations that don't want the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 repealed, or even reopened.

Under the Tonko bill, a new organization would have the right to restrict interstate simulcasts if jurisdictions don't comply with policy. It wouldn't, however, repeal the IHA or change its language.

"It is time for key stakeholders to come together and find solutions to protect equine athletes on the track and to turn around the problem of widespread doping of horses to enhance performance and to get injured horses into the starting gate," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. "The number of breakdowns in American racing should be unacceptable to any person concerned about the welfare of horses."

The number of catastrophic breakdowns in U.S. Thoroughbred racing has hovered at about two-per-1,000 starts for some time, and is much lower at some tracks that have invested in their racing surfaces.

Breeders' Cup has publicly stated its desire to offer its races drug-free on race day. One year it mandated that no 2-year-olds could compete in the World Championships using race-day furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix, but abandoned the policy after one year. Horsemen's groups largely support continued use of the anti-bleeding medication on race day.

"The current system of state-by-state regulation of medication across 38 states has inherent inefficiencies and a newer, modern, and efficient approach is vital to the growth of our sport," Breeders' Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel said. "We are pleased to partner in support of this legislation and we look forward to adding more coalition members in the weeks and months to come."

Major horsemen's groups contacted by Blood-Horse the morning of May 29 had not yet commented on the Tonko legislation. There is no mention of furosemide, but the bill would allow USADA to make rules based on input from the industry and apparently the vote of an 11-member board that would include five racing industry representatives.