Three congressmen are proposing legislation on the eve of the Kentucky Derby that would crack down on doping in horse racing.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Republican House members Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. The bill would give the United States Anti-Doping Agency authority to enforce standards in races with simulcast wagering.
USADA, the official anti-doping agency for the U.S. Olympics, would welcome the chance to branch out.
"At the end of the day, what's important is having an effective regulation system that has uniform standards," Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "It gives the public confidence in what ultimately they're watching or, in the case of horse racing in the United States, the betting industry, which is such a big part of it.
"Everyone deserves, particularly in that environment, to have a level playing field. Because if an animal is covertly and secretly gaining a performance advantage by these drugs and is able to defeat a nonexistent or an inconsistent policy that may currently be in place among the states, that detracts away and completely undermines the market from a betting standpoint. That's something congress or the public shouldn't tolerate."
In a statement released Wednesday, Udall said racing groups have pledged drug reforms before "but this bill would bring in real standards and enforcement from an organization with a proven record for cleaning up sports."
Udall, Whitfield and Pitts were involved in Congressional hearings last year that delved into medication and performance enhancing drugs in the sport.
Under the legislation, USADA would draft rules to put an end to race day medication, set a uniform medication policy framework, impose stiff penalties for cheating and ensure that racehorse drug administration complies with veterinary ethics.
Tygart believes this model would be effective in policing horse racing.
"Hopefully, we'll rally around that idea just as the Olympics sports did 15 years ago in setting up WADA and the USADAs of the world," Tygart said. "We'll finally put a stake in the ground and make a mark that they're going to do everything they can to protect the rights of athletes, the public and the integrity of horse racing. We're happy to play whatever role we can toward that end."
Alex Waldrop, the President and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the proposal was promising but the organization will "withhold comment on any proposed federal legislation until we have had a chance to thoroughly review the actual bill.
"However, we are encouraged by the significant progress the industry has made on the safety and integrity front over the past several years," Waldrop said. "Relying on a broad range of industry input and scientific research, state regulators are setting the stage for nationwide, uniform implementation of strengthened drug and medication rules, testing and penalties by as early as January 1, 2014. The NTRA strongly supports these carefully considered state regulatory reforms and encourages regulators to expedite their adoption and nationwide implementation."
On Saturday, the Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs. For those involved, it's the ideal backdrop to bring the issues to the forefront.
"For too long, the safety of jockeys and equine athletes has been neglected for the pursuit of racing profits," Whitfield said. "The doping of injured horses and forcing them to compete is deplorable and must be stopped.
"Despite repeated promises from the racing industry to end this practice, meaningful action and oversight has yet to come forth. This legislation would bring much-needed reforms to an industry that supports thousands of jobs and is enjoyed by spectators nationwide."