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Defining Integrity

Some people, I suspect, hated to see American Pharoah sweep the Triple Crown. And those people, I strongly suspect, support H.R. 3084, otherwise known as the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2015. Sponsored by Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, the bill was introduced in July in the House of Representatives.

Just the name of the legislation gives me the willies, for it implies that without the bill's passage the sport might lack integrity. That, of course, is pure flapdoodle and makes as much sense as the specious argument many vapid polemicists made for years about the Triple Crown: that no horse had swept it since 1978 because of the widespread race-day use of Lasix, or furosemide.

As for integrity, that argument had none. And American Pharoah easily dispelled it, slapped it away like a sluggish midge. But now, at The Jockey Club's recent Round Table Conference at Saratoga, several well-intentioned people trotted out equally specious arguments in favor of H.R. 3084. Righteous indignation, however, doesn't excuse or offset foolishness. You can be indignant about horse racing's problems, but that doesn't allow you to be foolish about the solutions. And H.R. 3084 is foolish.

But, of course, it sounds good, as specious arguments invariably do. H.R. 3084 would allow horse racing to wipe its hands of all medication problems and issues. That seems inviting enough. Who in horse racing wouldn't like to be free of that headache, of the inconsistency and the controversy and the relentless contentiousness? But who, then, would assume power? Who would fill the void? Yes, that's the rub.

The bill would turn over medication in the sport to the United States Anti-Doping Agency. "The Authority," as its called in the bill, would be empowered to make and enforce all medication rules, standards and policies. The USADA would become the monarch of medication.

That might seem a role for which it is eminently qualified. It has considerable experience, after all, in the enforcement of anti-doping rules in Olympic sports. But the USADA has no experience in horse racing. None. And although the USADA has been an enforcer, it has not been a regulator or a policy-maker.

Moreover -- and this is the most frightening part -- "The Authority" would be governed by a board comprised of the USADA chief executive officer, five USADA board members and five individuals from different constituencies in horse racing appointed, of course, by the USADA. In other words, a handful of people would have complete control.

How could The Jockey Club, for all the outstanding work it does on behalf of horse racing, support this? One of the arguments for H.R. 3084 is that it would lead to uniform medication rules, something everyone advocates. But the sport already is close to uniform rules. Would returning to square one move the sport towards its goal more quickly?

Also speaking at The Jockey Club's Round Table Conference was Kathleen Anderson, a veterinarian who's president-elect of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She outlined a 10-point "plan for action known as the Prescription for Racing Reform." The initiative, she explained, was designed "to protect the horse … while working concurrently to help ensure the long-term viability of racing in the United States."

The detailed plan includes uniform rules, a ban on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to 48 hours before racing and out-of-competition testing. And in many of these areas, by the way, the sport has made considerable progress in recent years, with some salubrious and encouraging results that seem to be largely ignored in favor of an imagined panacea, federal legislation. And, frankly, if H.R. 3084 named the AAEP as "The Authority," then federal legislation might be worth discussing.

But why would some people push for turning power over to the USADA and some behind-the-scenes cadre rather than jumping on board with the AAEP and its 10-point plan? Anderson herself probably supplied the answer: "The AAEP currently supports the use of Lasix as the only medication allowed on race day, and there is solid science to support its benefits to the horse."

Anderson said the AAEP is committed to developing or discovering "alternative management strategies" that could someday obviate the need for Lasix. And when something other than Lasix is found to be as effective in discouraging exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, then the AAEP will propose a nationally uniform medication policy that eliminates all race-day medication.

After many conversations with trainers on this subject, my impression is that the vast majority of horsemen welcome medication reform, but oppose federal legislation. And so why would The Jockey Club support something so divisive? Perhaps the answer is in H.R. 3084 itself. "The Authority," according to the bill, "shall take into consideration international" regulations and standards. "Shall," in this regard, is an imperative command, meaning the new rules must have an international perspective.

And why should we care how they regulate horse racing in France? They eat horses in France.

But some people, it seems, would like to subordinate an American perspective on racing to an international one. And so they're willing to embrace H.R. 3048, ignore the "solid science" and slap away prudent patience like a sluggish midge.