Beyond the Triple Crown races each spring, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships each fall and the occasional feature film profiling legendary horses like Secretariat or Seabiscuit, the American public has limited mainstream exposure to thoroughbred horse racing.
In fact, recent polling found that while the vast majority of adults in the U.S. called horse racing both exciting and fun to watch, only 14% had a very favorable view of the industry.
For a sport with a history that dates back centuries, and one that has been riding a wave of intensified interest over the past four months thanks to our first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, these polling numbers underscore how critically important it is to rebuild the public trust and ensure the industry’s growth now and in the future.
There is a negative public perception that horses are winning races as a result of pharmacological substances (both legal and illegal), not on talent and ability.
We are fighting the same battle that professional cycling and the Olympics have fought in the area of performance enhancing drugs.
Although there is nearly unanimous industry support for reforming our drug and medication policies, the current patchwork system of state regulations has made it nearly impossible to treat the problem on a national scale.
As a result, each racing jurisdiction has its own list of accepted medications, its own drug-testing laboratories, and its own penalty provisions.
The National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP), established in 2013, is a voluntary program created by industry stakeholders. Ideally, it would be adopted in each state and it would ensure standardized lab accreditation requirements, limitations of race day mediation and an enhanced penalty system.
Unfortunately, implementation of NUMP has been slow and sporadic. Even key horse racing states like New York, California, Kentucky and Florida have yet to adopt all four pillars of the program.
In fact, only 20 percent of all thoroughbred races being run in the United States at this time are abiding by the NUMP standards.
This incremental method of addressing the problem has not borne fruit. We must find a new way to change the status quo. And we have done that.
Earlier this year, a number of significant stakeholders from across the industry joined together with the goal of expediting reforms pertaining to the use of drugs, drug testing and penalties.
The Breeders’ Cup, Centaur Gaming, the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association, the Humane Society of the United States, The Jockey Club, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, the Meadowlands Racetrack, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs and the Water Hay Oats Alliance – the last a grassroots organization of over 1,200 influential owners, breeders, jockeys and trainers – united to form the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.
This summer, the coalition’s vision came closer to reality with legislation introduced by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Andy BarrAndy BarrThe Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan A guide to the committees: House How we can boost the economy through foreign direct investment MORE (R-Ky.). Formally, it is known as H.R. 3084, The Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015.
This bill would designate the independent, non-profit U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to establish consistent regulations across all racing jurisdictions through a totally new organization, at no cost to taxpayers or bettors. It would be known as the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority or THADA.
Because USADA is not a governmental entity, the THADA board would not be subject to federal involvement and will be funded entirely by the racing industry. THADA would also consist of private-sector and USADA representation – potentially including recommendations from racing commissioners, horsemen, vets, racetrack operators and other stakeholders.
This distribution of authority takes into account USADA’s unparalleled experience developing regulations for performance-enhancing drugs in sport as well as the expertise and resources of the racing community to set anti‑doping rules for prohibited substances, out‑of‑competition testing and uniform penalties.
We all remember the public outcry that erupted after news of doping in the Tour de France broke. USADA worked swiftly with the cycling community to penalize those who violated rules and implement best practices and enforcement policies, all of which helped restore the integrity of that great event and the sport in general.
This coalition wants to do the same thing for horse racing – in affiliation with USADA.
Our awareness of the issue and our joint desire to resolve it once and for all will not be deterred, and we are encouraged by the growing momentum and support we have seen in recent weeks.
Now, with members in both the House and Senate returning to their posts on Capitol Hill next week, the coalition is poised to buttress our grassroots efforts with strong, bicameral and bipartisan support. We remain determined as ever to collaborate with any and all parties interested in the long-term health of the horse racing industry.
The Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 is undoubtedly the best approach to break out of the cycle of incremental change, and truly achieve breakthrough and meaningful reform.
In the eyes of the coalition members, this is necessary to “command the interest as well as the confidence and favorable opinion of the public” for another century.
Gagliano is the president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, which is a member of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.