Congress introduces legislation to ban performance-enhancing drugs
Proposed new federal legislation calls for the elimination of race-day drug usage in Thoroughbred horses. The Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011 would, if enacted, attempt to reduce the common use of furosemide and phenylbutazone, also called bute.
The act would hold trainers and racetrack practitioners who administer illegal substances accountable for their actions, but it would most likely include threshold levels of other therapeutic medications, similar to rules enacted in England, Hong Kong and other countries.
The act would force racetracks that use simulcasting to adopt a no-drug policy. If the bill is passed, all drugs on race day would be prohibited, and penalties would be imposed for violations.The legislation was introduced on May 4, 2011, by U.S. Rep. Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa.; Ben Chandler, D-Ky.; and Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill. Whitfield and Udall serve on the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the Interstate Horseracing Act. Whitfield is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Udall is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Trade has not yet scheduled public hearings on the proposed legislation but estimates that they will be held next September or October. "One of the purposes of the hearings is to give everybody a chance to voice their concerns," says Whitfield. He notes that this is a complex issue and that those in the horseracing industry, including veterinarians, will get a chance to testify about the bill before it comes up for a congressional vote.
Speaking about the proposed act, Udall says, "Chemical warfare is rampant on American racetracks, and unlike other countries, our law does not reject this unscrupulous practice. A racehorse has no choice when it comes to using performance-enhancing drugs, but this legislation takes away that option from those who would subject these magnificent animals to such abuse for gambling profit. Those involved in horseracing will have to play by the rules or face getting kicked out of the sport."
Unlike other countries, racing jurisdictions in the United States allow horses to be medicated on race day.
A joint statement released by Whitfield and Udall says, "The industry's permissive medication rules have resulted in some unscrupulous trainers giving horses painkillers and other drugs to improve their chances of success without regard for health or safety. This can mean that horses run as fast as possible without feeling the pain that might otherwise provide warnings to prevent catastrophic injury to horse and jockey."
For example, in September 2007, Kentucky racing stewards suspended Rod Stewart, DVM, for five years, four of which were for possession of the snake venom alpha-cobratoxin, a nerve-blocking agent. Kentucky Horse Racing Authority investigators found the illegal drugs in barns at Keeneland Race Course, Lexington, Ky., used by trainer Patrick Biancone in June 2007.