By Mark Berner

Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced this week that they would introduce the Racehorse Doping Ban Act of 2019, which would establish consistent medication rules across the industry and strict doping penalties for horse races already governed by federal law.

“It is past time that Congress stop rewarding the horse racing industry for its inhumane doping violations with sweetheart gambling privileges and millions in casino slots subsidies,” said Udall in a press release.

But that point is rhetorical, an idle threat that racing would not get casino dollars. It is not part of any language expressed in the proposed bill.

The press release continued: “The U.S. industry has completely failed to self-regulate its doping and corruption abuses.” They paid for this study yet appear oblivious to the fact that a consortium of major racetracks have just proposed such self-regulation, even if it is to stay one step ahead of the feds.

The May 3rd grandstanding on Kentucky Derby eve also stated, “Legislation to ban doping in horseracing is the meaningful action we need to end the abuse of these iconic animals. Headlines around the country make it clear the future of this sport is in serious doubt, and this may be the last chance for meaningful reform—it’s time for industry leaders to take the blinders off.”

With all due respect, Senators, it is blinkers and not blinders. It may be blinders in politics, but we would all take you more seriously if you remained current with industry news and knew the terms used in racing.

Udall and Wyden first introduced the bill in 2013 and has reintroduced it every two years since. It never has gotten out of sub-committee.

Udall and former U.S. Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) highlighted concerns raised in a 2015 Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis of Thoroughbred horse racing legislation. The report's authors questioned the constitutionality of a House bill that proposes delegating regulatory authority to a private industry group.

The Jockey Club, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and several more alphabet racing organizations including the Water Hay Oats Alliance support that house bill, The Horse Racing Integrity Act.

Aka, Barr-Tonko, this proposal was first introduced in 2011 and though re-introduced every two years, just as Udall-Wyden was; it also never has gone beyond the sub-committee phase.

Udall and Pitts also co-sponsored the Coronado Heights Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015, which would repeal the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. That bill would help horseracing by taking simulcasting approval out of the hands of horsemen’s organizations. That bill was never reintroduced, a sign that the power lies with those maintaining the status quo.

Horsemen are sure to use this issue as a wedge against those trying to employ the new Lasix regulations announced last month by the Consortium of Racetracks.

“I still see all of these as proposals,” said Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “I think there will be time for discussion, deliberation on specifics.”

And that is no different from the response racing has given for the past two decades.

If either of these bills make it out of sub-committee and then passes through the full house, a complimentary bill must be introduced and go through the same process in the Senate. After that, the House and Senate would have to negotiate the two versions into one and put it to a vote.

I set those odds at 1000-1.

A House with these fractured principals cannot possibly be the savior for a fractured industry. The worst part is the industry is hanging its collective hat on legislative action that at best could be called Imagineering.

According to a study conducted by Deloitte Consulting and commissioned by the American Horse Council, the horse industry in the United States contributes $39 billion in direct economic impact and generates about $102 billion in total spending.

Thoroughbred racing's contribution to the gross domestic product is $20.8 billion, with $5 billion coming from the breeding industry. But for the entire sport, federal intervention is the worst possible option.

The feds have no experience regulating any sports, certainly not one as complex as this. Furthermore, it has given all other major leagues anti-trust exemption so that each league could handle its own business in house.

If Thoroughbred horseracing wants to spend its money wisely in DC, it should push for anti-trust legislation.

Moreover, all this is probably moot because individual states are likely to tie this up in the courts for decades claiming the Feds are infringing on states’ rights.

A memo obtained and printed in the New York Times lays out Churchill Downs’s opposition to the bill. CDI cites costs and the fact that trainers and veterinarian groups are against the measure. It also questions whether having the support of the Humane Society of the United States is “letting the fox in the henhouse.”

CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen and Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, are part of the problem, not the solution. They offer criticism but have no idea how to save an industry. They think racing’s alignment with HSUS is letting the fox in the hen house. Having PETA as CDI stockholders is no better.

PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo last month attended the CDI stockholders meeting and thanked them for what she called “a good first step,” but called on the company to adopt a slate of additional changes across the board, “given the deaths of horses, both during and after their racing careers. The public dislikes issues with medication and track surfaces,” she added.

For years, US racing has needed a master plan to get all jurisdictions on the same page. Thus far, Association of Racing Commissioners International is the closest thing racing has to set uniform policy but it is not working as well as it should.

The ARCI does not always get it right, but it is the only organization that consistently gets anything done at all. I have taken so many shots at the ARCI intending to hold its member’s feet to the fire that President Ed Martin asked me if I have a dartboard with his photo on it. More on the ARCI next week.

© Mark Berner,, May 7, 2019