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Congress steps into horse safety debate with drug-testing bill

Updated January 30, 2020 - 6:45 pm

Horse racing fans and participants in the sport may soon find out if former President Ronald Reagan got it right when he said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

In this case, the U.S. House of Representatives is the governmental body offering to help the racing industry get its house in order via the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019.

The bill, HR 1754, which had its first hearing on Tuesday before the consumer subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, would establish uniform national standards for therapeutic medications and anti-doping testing and create an independent authority to enforce them.

That would eliminate variations in medication rules between states and increase “out of competition” testing. The bill also would bar the administration of “any prohibited or otherwise permitted substance” within 24 hours of a race, including Lasix.

The bill enjoys considerable support in the racing industry, and more than half of House members have signed on as cosponsors.

But it also has its critics. Among other things, they have questioned the cost of creating a new testing regimen from the ground up and whether the U.S. Anti Doping Agency, which the bill designates as the body that would oversee the testing, has sufficient experience with equine athletes to manage the program.

But the core issue for most, including groups representing veterinarians and racing commissioners, appears to be Lasix.

Dennis Drazin, CEO of Monmouth Park, went so far as to testify that a ban on race-day administration of the diuretic would likely mean the end for the beautiful Jersey Shore track.

But Drazin and other opponents also faulted the bill for not including other steps that could improve safety for horses and jockeys alike, such as more transparency into horses’ veterinary records and racing surface standards to ensure that tracks aren’t causing unnecessary injuries.

Jim Gagliano, chief operating officer of the Jockey Club and a supporter of the legislation, said advocates “would be open to considering amendments that would make it broader.” The key, he said, is maintaining the momentum the legislation has slowly built.

“We have significant support from Congress and want to keep driving forward,” he said.

One thing is clear: The state entities and companies that conduct horse racing brought this on themselves by failing to unite to address the troubling issues confronting the sport, especially horse deaths.

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers are on the road to the Triple Crown, tackling Saturday’s $250,000 Withers Stakes, a 1⅛th mile Grade 3 at Aqueduct, and the $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes, a Grade 3 at 1 1/6th mile at Gulfstream Park.

In the former, the crowd ‘cappers are backing the 2-1 favorite Shotski, who captured the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes last month at Aqueduct, though not by much. Monday Morning QB (4-1) also drew considerable support, with Max Player (9-2) rounding out their top three.

I’m leery of Shotski, who got an easy lone lead in the Remsen when wiring the field. I’ll go with Prince of Pharoahs (8-1), who finished a good second to accomplished Independence Hall in the Jerome Stakes last out and galloped out strongly past the wire. I’ll use New Commission (15-1) to place and Portos (3-1) to show.

In the Holy Bull, the handicapping crew is again sticking with the favorite Tiz the Law (3-5 on the morning line) to turn back his six rivals. They see Toledo (7-2) and Relentless Dancer (8-1) filling out the top spots.

Tiz the Law is a deserving favorite, but at that price I’ve got to try to beat him. I’ll use Relentless Dancer on top, as I like the way that trainer Mike Maker put the son of Midshipman on the shelf after he blasted an overmatched field of Louisiana-bred runners in a stakes race at Delta Downs in October. I’ll take Tiz the Law to place and Toledo to show.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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