In the ol' muck pit: On the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017

In the ol' muck pit: On the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”

It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?

And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure: Congressman Andy Barr is a really nice guy, but…federal legislation and mandates are not the answer for the Thoroughbred industry.

I tried not to delve into this subject matter for so very long. Oh, how I tried.


For the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone in the horse industry would want to invite the federal government into the business. My business. Your business. Any damn business.

Seriously? Really? Have you looked at Washington, D.C. lately? Seriously? Really? And, you can really remove the word “lately.” Have you looked at the mess in Washington, D.C.? If you haven’t, I’ll let you in on a little secret: It is a screwed-up mess. Of major proportions. In fact, I don’t know of any institution in the entire world that is more inefficient; more irresponsible; more malfeasant; more cost ineffective; more wasteful; more disgusting.

You want something messed up, get the federal government to get involved in it.

Simply put, Congress and the rest of the federal government can’t get out of their own way to run the people’s business — much less have the time, energy, expertise, oversight and intelligence to tell, dictate, mandate, and regulate the world’s horse industry. If you want the definition of “screwed up,” then you would get it by the mouthful. Over. And, over. And, over. So much so that you will need a dose of any therapeutic and/or mind-altering drug just to get by.

Whether you believe in the concept of only “Hay, Oats, and Water,” and are a resolute disciple of zero tolerance on race day medications (and, I would argue there is no such thing any where in the entire world), or you are a considerate soul that believes that therapeutic medicines allow both human and equine athletes to perform up to their capabilities is the humane thing to do (and, I would argue that it is), there is no argument about four major, over-riding principals and reasons that should condemn the so-called “Horseracing (should be two words, or at the very least, hyphenated) Integrity Act of 2017" to a death on the cutting room floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Let’s dissect:

  1. There is no such thing as passing federal legislation to establish a “non-governmental United States Anti-Doping Agency.” Just to scribble those words in the same sentence is laughable. To believe those words is ludicrous. Passing legislation is an act of government. Establishing an “agency” is an act of government. And, no matter what you call it, that agency — any agency — is, and forever shall be, a part of the government from which it is formed. The “Agency” will have to have oversight. From whom? The “Agency” will have to be operated. By whom? The “Agency” will be beholding to the ones that appoints, elects, implants. And, for how long? Until the next generation of power players that somehow wrangle control? There is one answer, and only one answer. The entity that creates the organization can and will change the organization. And, that is government. For the past 30-some years, I  have made my living by lobbying both the state and federal governments. I worked for firms, corporations, individuals — all of whom wanted something from government decision-makers. Some wanted to be left alone. Some wanted something done. Some got what they wanted, and liked it. Some didn’t get what they wanted, and didn’t like it.  Sometimes it was a mix of both. But the truth is very simple: you can’t get a “non-governmental agency” from government. As they used to say down at the Corner Grocery in little Midway, Ky. — “there ain’t no such thing.” What you will get, my friends, is yet another layer of governmental bureaucracy, managed by yet another group of bureaucrats who truthfully do not have the expertise to do the job right; or, quite frankly, the education, experience, knowledge, science, or ability to do the job, period.
  2. Isn’t it ironic that just a few short days ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that will allow the States to govern, regulate, and establish rules for the legalization of “Sports Wagering,” and, yet, at nearly the same exact time, we are now witnessing a major attempt by a minority to take the rights of States away? No matter how you cut it, that is what Congressman Barr’s proposed legislation would do. No longer would individual states have the right to set drug policy; dictate the terms and conditions under which legalized horse racing could and would be conducted; and regulate the very sport that it has deemed fit to legalize, sanction, and oversee. That is not progress. That is flawed. The States have the right, and obligation. The States have an existing system and protocols. To be honest, that is why this country is called the United States of America. And, not just America. It is State’s Rights.
  3. This is an effort led by a sometimes vocal minority, and not by racing’s majority. If it was the majority that believed, then the majority would not instruct, permit, OK, or allow their trainers, and respective medical staffs to utilize permissive, legal, therapeutic race day medications in their horses. Yet they do. If it was the universal opinion of world leaders in the racing industry in each foreign jurisdiction, they wouldn’t ship their horses to these great United States and run on permissive, therapeutic, race day medications. Yet they do. If it was the medical professions universal belief that permissive, therapeutic race day medications are harming the breed; injuring the participants; masking illegal drugs, then they would stand before Congress in the majority. Yet, they do not. I guess this would fall under the category of, “If You Don’t Get What Your Want From Mom or Dad, You Go to the Grand Parents?” The truth is this. Most people in racing today believe that race day, therapeutic medications are in the best interest of the horse, the sport, and the industry. Or, at the very least, they don’t have the interest to protest. One or the other. If so, then there is no reason to invite the federal government in to mandate a different policy. Zero.
  4. If this is not about Lasix — the anti-bleeding, therapeutic medication that helps horses to race and perform at maximum efficiency without a higher risk of hemorrhaging — and is truly about other performance-enhancing medications that are currently illegal and enhance cheating, then there are simpler, better, more efficient answers. One, take Lasix off the table. Put it back in the medicine cabinet, and the veterinarian’s tool box. Where it belongs, and it can help. After all, we aren’t asking the proponents to give up there blood pressure meds. Two, develop better, standardized testing and reporting cooperation between State racing jurisdictions. Three, synchronize the penalties and create a “Model” schedule. Four, utilize technology, video, and other surveillance methods that can offer more scrutiny for any and all horses participating in racing. Five, step up enforcement. The “concept” of zero tolerance for race day medications may sound good in theory, but without proper testing, security, and surveillance, there is no guarantee of compliance in that “utopia” of racing. Just to say it is so, does not make it “so.”

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 belongs in the muck pit. Now. And, forever.

Meet Gene McLean

The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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