By Andrew M Roberts DVM

You may have seen articles written by a Washington reporter about the Kentucky’s horse business, and federal legislation being promoted in Washington. It’s a shame that these articles were presented in such a lopsided fashion. Hopefully, I can straighten some of this out.

Would anyone describe an election result of 90% to 10% “divided”? Most would call it an “overwhelming landslide” or “incredible mandate”, but certainly not divided. If I told you that over 90% of people that work with racehorses everyday in America support the use of Lasix for horses diagnosed with EIPH (exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage), would you feel that these articles fairly represented that fact?

Would anyone refer to people that take medication for blood pressure or heart disease as dope addicts? Such a statement would be insensitive, not to mention false. Lasix is a medication for blood pressure given by veterinarians in ALL racing jurisdictions in North America to horses with EIPH. Who would promote the ridiculous position that giving a horse Lasix is “doping”? The people promoting this bill believe that they can generate support by hijacking the semantics. Everyone I know in the horse business is vehemently opposed to cheating, drugging, or doping horses! Very few of them are opposed the humane and necessary therapeutic treatment of these great athletes.

These people claim that medication rules in America are a “patchwork”. When all 34 US horseracing jurisdictions permit the use of Lasix, is that a “patchwork”? When 95% of the gambling revenue from racing is derived under a National Uniform Medication Plan, is that a “patchwork”? The driver’s license rules in America are a much bigger “patchwork”. Do Kentuckians cause catastrophic traffic accidents in Ohio because of that “patchwork”? .

The fact is 100% of the racing jurisdictions prohibit the use of illicit drugs. Unfortunately, all laboratories are not equal. Would it not make more sense to harmonize laboratory procedures or promote a national laboratory? I have personally met with Rep. Barr about this, but instead his group elected to blindside the racing community with this unsupportable bill. There is common ground that could be worked upon, but the folks behind the Barr-Tonko bill have only one major goal, a ban on Lasix. The remainder of the bill is window dressing. This bill could actually jeopardize Kentucky’s horse industry.

Many groups oppose the bill, groups representing the vast preponderance of horse people. Veterinarians (AAEP, NAARV), regulators (ARCI), thoroughbred horsemen and owners associations (HBPA, THA, TOC), the standardbred and quarterhorse associations (USTA, AQHA) all oppose this bill. I could go on….

Interestingly, The Stronach Group, owner of Pimlico, does not “enthusiastically support” the bill as claimed. Mr. Stronach personally supports the bill. Additionally, the articles appear to demonize Churchill Downs for “refusing to sign on”. Does Churchill Downs have a responsibility to the health and welfare of the horses racing at its tracks? I would argue they are being good corporate citizens in this instance, protecting these great equine athletes that put on the show.

The reason this bill is opposed is that people that work with the animals on a daily basis understand the flaws. It is the classic rendition of the boots versus the suits. Many of the groups mentioned above have worked very closely with Rep. Barr to try to make a real difference for racing. Unfortunately the people promoting this bill are politically powerful. I find it very interesting that there is no mention that the Jockey Club, racing’s privately held monopoly, is the primary promoter of the bill. “Whoa” and “Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity” are offered as supporters. Did anyone ask if there were any Jockey Club members/directors in the hierarchy of these supposed “grassroots” organizations? They run them.

Let me make this clear, everyone supports safe clean “drug free” racing. Racing in America works in one of the world’s most highly regulated and tested environments, infinitely stricter than Olympic athletes. Racing has many issues, and they are serious. I work on these issues in good faith every day. I work on them for my clients, my patients, and my own animals. Barr-Tonko is a step backwards, creating more bureaucracy and failing to address racing’s real issues.

Andrew M Roberts DVM
Owner, Breeder, and Trainer of Racehorses
Member of the KY Racing Commission Equine Drug Research Council since 2008
AAEP member since 1994 (racing committee member 2015-17)
NAARV founding board member
USTA member
Former KY Racing Commission Veterinarian
2017 President of the KY Association of Equine Practitioners