SANTA FE – Congress annoyed many people when it held hearings in 2005 to investigate steroid use by big-league baseball players. Honesty and candor were missing in most testimony from players, but baseball seems cleaner since the federal inquiry exposed muscle-bound sluggers as cheats.
Now U.S. Sen. Tom Udall wants Congress to be even more aggressive in trying to stamp out performance-enhancing drugs in horseracing.
Udall, D-N.M., announced last week that he would sponsor a bill giving authority to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to police all races with simulcast wagering.
“There is so much corruption in the industry,” Udall said in an interview. “They make noises about changing, but they never do.”
He said putting testing in the hands of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would clean up the sport and make it more interesting to the public and more successful economically.
“This is the organization that cleaned up bicycle racing with Lance Armstrong and the Olympics,” Udall said.
Two Republican members of the House of Representatives, Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, are teaming with Udall on what they call the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. Though their bill was only in draft form, they made it public as millions of racing fans and casual observers prepared to watch the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
“The chronic abuse of racehorses with painkillers and other drugs is dangerous and just plain wrong,” Udall said. “Racing groups have promised drug reform for decades, but this bill would bring in real standards and enforcement from an organization with a proven record for cleaning up sports.”
Vince Mares, agency director for the New Mexico Racing Commission, publicly said last year that drugs were sullying horseracing. In a recent interview, Mares said he favored uniform testing standards, but declined comment on Udall’s bill until he saw it in final form.
Racing Commissioners International, a Kentucky-based organization, criticized the forthcoming bill as one that would could be a step backward for honesty in horseracing.
“While we have the utmost respect for what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency does in human sport, we are concerned that the program they deploy permits the use of prohibited substances in competition upon receipt of a therapeutic-use exemption, something we do not allow in horseracing,” said Ed Martin, president of Racing Commissioners International. “If those standards were applied to horse racing, they would considerably weaken the current program, as well as undermine some of the reforms we are currently working to implement.”
Mares, in testimony before a committee of state legislators last October, said cheating was a sad fact of life at New Mexico’s five tracks. He asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding to help stop it.
“New Mexico has a drug problem,” Mares told the Legislative Finance Committee. “I’ve identified people who have doped horses and caused the deaths of horses.”
State legislators this year approved two bills to give Mares much of what he wanted to clean up the industry.
One adds money for increased drug-testing of horses, sometimes in random exams weeks before they are scheduled to run. Mares said the racing commission now has $370,000 a year for testing, but that will about double in 2014 with the legislative appropriation.
The second state bill increases civil penalties for violators of doping laws, and it allows for those cases to be turned over to the appropriate district attorney for possible criminal prosecutions. Both bills were sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces.