The aversion of racing’s leaders to meaningful uniform anti-doping initiatives continues. Most recently, the CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Agency, Eric Hamelback, once again opposed federal legislation that would place racing under the authority of a national agency. Unfortunately, Hamelback’s opposition was premised on a false statement of the content of the bill pending in Congress.
Writing in the Thoroughbred Daily News, Hamelback stated that the legislation “does not seek to place our industry into the hands of anti-doping experts with the ability to make common-sense distinctions between performance-enhancing drugs and those that aren’t.” That is because, he says, the appointed members of the oversight Board “have nothing to do with our industry.”
The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 would create a national board to establish and enforce uniform anti-drugging policies. It is, of course, highly controversial. One of the foremost arguments against it by opponents has been that the United States Anti-Drugging Agency (USADA) is not equipped to expand its jurisdiction from human athletes to equine ones.
Hamelback continues to perpetrate this myth, but the actual language from the Congressional bill contradicts his assertion. The bill creates a governing Board consisting of the USADA CEO, six additional members of the USADA board and the following members:
- at least one with “expertise in equine anti-doping and medication control regulation;”
- at least one with “significant experience as an owner” or with “expertise in the breeding of race horses;”
- at least one “formerly employed as an executive with a racetrack;”
- at least one vet with “expertise in equine veterinary practice with regard to race horses or expertise in veterinary research in matters affecting race horses;”
- at least one with “expertise in training;” and,
- at least one jockey.
The proposed law further requires USADA to solicit candidates from a “cross-section of equine industry representatives.” Simply put, the proposed Board would have plenty of representation of experienced and knowledgeable racing professionals.
Hamelback cites what he views as the injustices perpetrated recently on trainers he believes to be above approach such as Rusty Arnold, Joe Sharp and Bill Mott, claiming that a federal oversight agency would not prevent the abuses. The irony, however, is that he favors leaving in place the morass of some three dozen regulatory agencies that are the perpetrators of the injustices he cites.
Instead he advocates those who are outraged by inappropriate and unfair decisions to “get involved” – go to meetings, write letters, etc. Of course, in order to make informed arguments, one needs facts. I have no reason to question the integrity or innocence of any of the trainers cited in Hamelback’s piece. But saying “Rusty Arnold is a good guy” is not a sufficient reason – nor should it be – to overturn a drug positive. (The lab making the initial determination later discovered an error.)
The case with which I have the most familiarity is that of Bill Mott. He was penalized for a positive, but New York, unlike many jurisdictions, not only does not require a split sample but apparently routinely destroys them. Mott reportedly is now into six figures in legal fees and has taken his case to court after not getting redress before the Gaming Commission, the state’s regulatory body – the entity Hamelback seeks to retain.
I find the Mott case as I understand it to be an outrageous injustice because of New York’s continuing failure to remediate it. But Hamelback’s inaccurate assessment that a new federal agency would lack knowledgeable representatives of the industry actually does apply to New York’s Gaming Commission. I attended a public seminar conducted by the Commission on Lasix a couple of summers ago. It was abundantly clear that the commissioners who bothered to attend had no familiarity with the issue. That’s understandable given that the Commission has a broader jurisdiction than racing. But there are also none of the experience requirements that Hamelback thinks are so essential – and that are contained in the Horseracing Integrity Act.
The lackadaisical attitude of Hamelback’s organization, the NHBPA, for meaningful medication reform could not be better exemplified than the agenda for their national convention now underway in New Orleans. Although it is a five-day conference, only two agenda items can be considered to be remotely connected to addressing racing drug issues.
On Thursday, there is a 25-minute (sic) session on the “Trainer All Insurer Rule.” The next day, a two-hour session is entitled “Environmental Transfer, Cause for Concern in Racehorses: Inadvertent Exposure to Recreational and Prescription Medications.”
I doubt that I am going too far out on the ledge to predict that both sessions will again repeat the tiresome nonsense that racing is overwhelmingly drug free as shown by the low rate of post-race positives. Leaders such as Hamelback are among the few people involved with racing I have encountered who believe there is no problem worth a serious discussion.