Gagliano: a system change we can’t afford to pass up

Common sense dictates that out-of-competition testing would deter owners, trainers and vets from administering illicit, performance-enhancing drugs. Photo: irishequinecentre.ie

Polling of  U.S. horse racing bettors has repeatedly demonstrated that drugs and integrity issues are two of the top three issues facing the sport, and 92 percent of them say they want to see uniform medication policies implemented faster than they are being adopted now.

We all know the problem. But what is the best solution?

The members of the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity believe we need a systematic change in the way Thoroughbred racing is regulated.

  • We need better and more uniform rules.

  • We need harsher penalties for integrity-related violations.

  • And we need improved drug testing, including much more out-of-competition testing and more robust investigations.

With good intentions, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in 2012 introduced the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP), and it continues to push for adoption by each of the 38 states where racing is conducted. The four main components of this base-level program revolve around Controlled Therapeutic Medications, Laboratory Accreditation, Multiple Medication Violation Penalty System, and Third-Party Administration of Furosemide.

How much progress has been made with respect to adoption? Here are the facts:

  • Of the 38 racing jurisdictions in this country, only six have adopted all four components of the NUMP.

  • Six others have adopted three. Five have adopted two components. Twelve have adopted just one.

  • And four jurisdictions have not adopted any.

I defy anyone to call that uniformity, at least if you go by the dictionary definition of uniform (identical or consistent, as from example to example, place to place, or moment to moment).

While that sporadic adoption of the NUMP is indeed disheartening, our industry’s general lack of acceptance of out-of-competition testing is even more troubling. Out-of-competition testing is designed to detect illegal substances capable of enhancing performance when administered well in advance of the competition. By the time of the race, the residues of the illegal substance have vanished - yet its effects on performance have not.

Where we lag behind the rest of the world

Virtually every other sport, and virtually all major racing jurisdictions around the world, use vigorous out-of-competition testing to ensure integrity.

We lag way behind.

In a presentation at The Jockey Club’s annual Round Table Conference in 2014, a representative of McKinsey & Company shared insights on how out-of-competition testing acts as a deterrent. Common sense dictates that, if owners, trainers, and vets know that horses could be tested at any time, it would deter them from administering illicit, performance-enhancing drugs.

  • In Hong Kong, 11 percent of all drug testing originates from samples taken out of competition.

  • In France, that number is 10 percent. In Victoria, Australia, it’s 21 percent.

  • In the U.S., it’s only 1 percent.

By contrast, for testing for the Olympics, more than half of the samples were taken out of competition.

  • In swimming, it’s 59 percent.

  • In baseball, it’s 25 percent.

  • In cycling, it’s 63 percent.

According to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium website, only 19 of 38 states in the U.S. have even published regulatory guidelines for out-of-competition testing. Among those states, wide variation exists in the breadth and depth of out-of-competition testing rules and protocols.

In 2013, The Jockey Club announced the creation of a Graded Stakes Out-of-Competition Testing Grant Fund program to encourage more out-of-competition testing for the presence of blood-doping agents and Association of Racing Commissioners International Class 1 substances. Racetracks in California, Florida, Kentucky, New York, West Virginia, and the province of Ontario (Woodbine) have taken part in the program, but only about 25 percent of the available funds were ever claimed and used.

Current process is fatally flawed

The painfully slow and uneven pace of adoption of NUMP and the indifference towards out-of-competition testing over the past several years have convinced us that the state-by-state adoption process of new, better regulations is fatally flawed.

Our sport is conducted across state lines, and we need one set of regulations that recognizes its interstate nature. We no longer can afford medication regulations administered by 38 separate state racing commissions, rife with conflicted interests, and only loosely bound by a trade association.

We need a system change. We need an overhaul.

With that goal in mind, Reps Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced in July, 2015, legislation known as H.R. 3084, or the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act.

This legislation would not involve hands-on federal control but rather the granting of rulemaking, testing, and enforcement oversight to an entity created by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the adoption of a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in American Thoroughbred racing.

In addition, the new agency would oversee additional research into emerging performance-enhancing drugs and greatly increase the investigative efforts of the regulators.

Of course, there will be a cost to this new regulatory paradigm. The legislation provides that those funds will be raised by the industry and will not allow an increase in takeout. It does, however, provide for flexibility to each state to determine the source(s) of the additional funding. For example, the state, tracks or horsemen, or any combination of these entities, can contribute to these new regulatory efforts. Based on our research (which included significant input from some state regulators and USADA), the increased cost per start would range between $33 and $94, depending upon the state.

An investment into the future

We firmly believe this new cost is an investment into the future of racing, whereby all stakeholders will benefit.

Over the past several months, a broad-based group of industry stakeholders have held scores of meetings with federal lawmakers in Washington D.C. Those officials, and their staff members, have been not only receptive but encouraging.

In fact, nearly one in five members of the House of Representatives have already signed on as co-sponsor of the Barr–Tonko Bill, and a companion Senate version is in the works.

We will continue our work in the next Congress, following the elections.

Five years ago, The Jockey Club first issued this statement, echoing its core belief: “Horses should compete only when they are free from the influence of medication.”

Our perspective has not changed, nor has our determination to make that a reality in all 38 racing jurisdictions.

But the system needs to change.

We will continue to pursue uniformity for the betterment of our sport and all those who participate in it.

James L. Gagliano is the president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club. The Jockey Club is a member of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, a broad-based alliance of organizations seeking the adoption of a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in horse racing.

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