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.
Ellis Starr’s Holy Bull Stakes analysis
Mayberry Deputy has improved markedly in both starts since his career debut in early November and may be the one to beat in this year’s Holy Bull Stakes. Although eighth in his debut, Mayberry Deputy showed some talent moving quickly mid-race from sixth to third before tiring. In his second start 15 days later Mayberry Deputy finished second to runaway seven length winner Gold Street, recent winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes and on many a racing fan’s Kentucky Derby contender list. Stretched out to a mile at the end of December, Mayberry Deputy moved up nicely from fifth in the early stages to be just off the leader at the top of the stretch before drawing off to win by two and one-half lengths, improving to a career-best 102 Equibase Speed Figure following an 86 figure one month earlier. Getting the extra sixteenth of a mile in the Holy Bull should not be an issue for this son of Majesticperfection, a sire who has produced four winners of dirt route stakes for 3-year-olds in the past few years, including 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner Lovely Maria. Additionally, trainer McPeek won the 2019 Holy Bull with Harvey Wallbanger at odds of 29/1. Mayberry Deputy, like Harvey Wallbanger last year, is coming off a maiden win.
Relentless Dancer is the only horse in the field to have won a race around two turns on dirt. Due to the configuration of the track at Delta Downs, the 7-furlong Louisiana Legacy Stakes, which Relentless Dancer won last October, was run around two turns. Like Mayberry Deputy, Relentless Dancer has improved in all three career starts to date. He ran poorly in his debut last August, a turf sprint then won his next start on dirt in September by nearly 10 lengths with an 87 figure. One month later Relentless Dancer improved again and won by 10 1/2 lengths with a 91 figure. Although that figure is substantially lower than the 102 figure Mayberry Deputy earned in his most recent start, we must remember Relentless Dancer ran that race in the middle of October, so projecting physical maturity in the ensuing three and one-half months, Relentless Dancer must be considered with a big shot in this year’s Holy Bull.
Tiz the Law was most impressive winning the first two starts of his career, including the Champagne Stakes (a one turn mile) in October with a 93 figure. Nearly two months later, Tiz the Law disappointed when third as the odds-on favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, run around two turns run on a sloppy track. Although beaten three-quarters of a length at the wire in the Jockey Club, Tiz the Law made no headway in the stretch where he began a half-length back. Perhaps it was the wet track over which he could not close to pass the winner or runner-up. Since coming to Florida at the end of December, Tiz the Law has worked well for his return including a sharp half-mile drill six days ago which was the best of 41 on the day, so if nothing else the colt is fit and ready to run his best.
The rest of the Holy Bull field, with their best Equibase figures: Clear Destination (93), Ete Indien (101), Toledo (97) and Uncork the Bottle (85).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.