May 29, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) A New York congressman plans to introduce a federal bill establishing uniform drug and medication standards in thoroughbred racing that would be overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and begin in 2017.

Paul Tonko, an upstate Democrat whose district includes Saratoga Race Course, made the announcement in Washington on Friday.

The racing industry has been regulated on a state-by-state basis with a patchwork of rules and penalties, and he said it's time to set a level playing field at racetracks nationwide.

The legislation would allow USADA to create a drug agency specifically for racing. USADA, an independent agency, is the national anti-doping organization in the U.S. for the Olympics.

Tonko hopes to present the bill - the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Anti-Doping Act of 2015 - to the House of Representatives in the next few weeks.

Also, the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity has been formed as a support group. It includes The Jockey Club, Breeders' Cup Ltd., the Humane Society of the United States and the Water Hay Oats Alliance.

Rules, testing and enforcement often vary in each racing jurisdiction. For years, several racing bodies and other groups have been studying ways to establish one set of regulations for all tracks.

''A single, national approach to medication and drug testing with strong independent oversight and enforcement is long overdue,'' Tonko said in a statement, ''and will help ensure the industry's long-term viability, including enhancing the care and welfare of horses.''

Horse racing has been under scrutiny for years because of numerous medication violations, including among top trainers, such as Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott and Bob Baffert. Penalties, such as fines and suspensions, have been inconsistent.

''It is our hope that the model of independence, harmonization and enforcement of robust anti-doping programs envisioned through this legislation can be realized to finally truly protect the health of the athletes and the integrity of the competition,'' USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement.

The agency would create the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Organization (THADO) made up of six USADA board members and five people from the racing industry.

''The racing industry has taken thoughtful and significant steps toward medication reform in recent years and we believe that the creation of this coalition demonstrates widespread support for further changes, changes that can be made in a more timely fashion,'' Jockey Club President James L. Gagliano said. ''We deeply appreciate Congressman Tonko's willingness to help us bring about reform.''

The group would work with state racing commissions and could begin Jan. 1, 2017.

''While the nation's spotlight will be on American Pharoah and Belmont Park in the coming days, the thoroughbred industry is a year-round enterprise,'' Tonko said. ''There is much at stake, with the thoroughbred industry contributing $25 billion to the U.S. economy annually and nearly 4,000 jobs, including many in the Saratoga Springs area that I represent.''

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