Legislators may pressure states to adopt uniform drug policy

Updated: February 28, 2008, 2:15 PM ET
By Matt Hegarty | Daily Racing Form

The federal government may intervene if states fail to adopt uniform medication rules for horse racing, said Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky during a House committee hearing examining drug use in sports on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

During his questioning of Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Whitfield said the government could require uniform medication rules, including regulations regarding the use of anabolic steroids, as a condition of allowing tracks to continue simulcasting across state lines.

Waldrop was one of 14 representatives of sports leagues who appeared Wednesday before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Whitfield is the ranking member of the committee.

Interstate simulcasting is allowed under federal legislation, the Interstate Horse Racing Act, passed in 1978. Whitfield said federal legislators could amend the act to withhold approval for state-to-state simulcasting.

When asked by Whitfield whether it would be "unreasonable" for Congress to require the medication rules, Waldrop answered, "No, sir, it would not be unreasonable."

Waldrop, however, later hedged his answer under questioning from Rep. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania. Pitts asked Waldrop the same question as Whitfield, saying he was seeking a clarification.

"You have to balance the interests of the states with the federal interest of protecting interstate commerce," Waldrop said.

The subcommittee hearing, which lasted four hours, was focused on the use of anabolic steroids and human-growth hormones in sports. Representatives of all four major U.S. sports leagues - Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League - appeared at the hearing, along with officials of the leagues' players unions. In addition, representatives of college sports and the U.S. Olympics Committee appeared.

Racing received little attention from the committee members during the hearing. Whitfield and Pitts were the only members of the committee who posed any questions for Waldrop, who gave a five-minute presentation and submitted a more detailed, unread presentation to the committee as his official testimony.

Waldrop devoted a portion of his testimony to the racing industry's efforts to regulate anabolic steroids, which has proceeded in fits and starts for more than a year. The administration of anabolic steroids is currently regulated in two states, while the rest do not have any rules prohibiting their use.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry-funded research group, recommended late in 2006 that the racing industry regulate steroid use, and last year many states began the regulatory process to adopt a rule that would prohibit the use of all but four anabolics. Under the rule, the four permitted drugs - stanozolol, boldenone, nandrolone, and testosterone - would be prohibited from being administered within 30 days of a race, to allow for therapeutic use of the drugs. Several horse-sale companies over the past year have voluntarily put in place testing programs for steroids.

When administered on a regular schedule, anabolic steroids can be used to build muscle mass in horses. Horsemen and trainers have maintained that anabolic steroids have therapeutic uses in helping horses recover from exercise and maintain appetite.

The NTRA and the medication consortium are pressing the states to adopt the rule by the end of the year. Some horsemen's groups have complained about the rule, contending that current research does not properly set accurate withdrawal times. The consortium is funding research to develop withdrawal times for both samples of blood and urine, but that research will not be completed until early summer. Testing for anabolic steroids in urine has been done for 30 years in Europe, where all anabolic steroids are prohibited in racehorses.

Because research on steroid testing is incomplete and the process to put news rules in place is often laborious, there already is doubt that all states can meet the consortium's deadline. In Kentucky, for example, officials of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority said this week that horsemen's groups would not support a rule until the research was complete, and that it typically takes more than six months to put a new regulation in place.

Waldrop said that to his knowledge, horsemen's groups did not oppose the regulation of steroids but wanted to be certain that the industry's testing standards were up to date.

"Horsemen are saying that we need a bright line so that we can comply with the rule," Waldrop said. When the research is complete, according to Waldrop, "We will see wholesale adoption of the model rule."