As Justify returns to California after snagging the coveted Triple Crown, a debate lingers in the commonwealth over the rules governing the sport that thrust the chestnut colt into the spotlight.
In 2017, Sixth District Rep. Andy Barr joined New York Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko in unveiling the bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act. Supporters believe the measure is necessary to clean up the patchwork of laws that exists across the country and bring the sport under a single regulatory umbrella when it comes to medicating and monitoring Thoroughbreds.
Under the bill, those matters would come before the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control. That entity would be governed by a board including the chief executive of United States Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees testing in Olympic sports. The measure also puts the U.S. on a similar footing with international standards by banning race-day administration of Lasix, a drug that reduces bleeding in racehorses' lungs.
"A national, uniform medication program is not about more bureaucracy," Barr told WUKY. "Our bill creates a non-governmental anti-doping authority that actually reduces regulations because it replaces 38 different... state by state conflicting regulatory regimes with a single national, uniform set of standards."
Although the bill won backing from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Keeneland, and animal welfare organizations, among others, Andrew Roberts, a former president of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, bristled at the "doping" label in a June Lexington Herald-Leader editorial.
"Would you refer to people who take medication for blood pressure or heart disease, prescribed by a physician, a doper or dope addict? I doubt it," he writes.
In the opinion piece, Roberts argues the promoters of the bill are ultimately after a total ban on what he labels a "necessary therapeutic treatment" for racehorses. All racing districts currently bar "illicit drugs," he argued.
Yet Barr says the public perception of one of Kentucky's signature attractions could hang in the balance.
"We didn't get involved in this issue because we thought it would be non-controversial," the three-term congressman explains. "We got involved because it's the right thing to do for the safety and integrity and the future competitiveness of the Thoroughbred racing industry."
It's an industry that's undergoing an evolution as interest in horseracing wanes, with some tracks turning to casino-style gambling and online horse betting to meet their bottom line.
Barr has not indicated whether the House has any plans to take up the legislation soon.