Steroid ban for horse racing is near

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (AP) - The U.S. Congress has expanded itsprobe into doping in sports to include horse racing, with one of the industry's top officials defending what he called a much improved, albeit still imperfect, system of testing.

Alexander Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, told a congressional panel on Wednesday that by the endof the year, he expects virtually all major racing states to adopt aban on the use of steroids for horses at least a month before they appear on the track.

"Is our testing protocol perfect? No," Waldrop told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's panel on commerce, trade andconsumer protection. "Can it be improved? Absolutely. But the major industry stakeholders are united in their commitment to address drug and medication issues on a national basis."

Waldrop said horses are already subjected to the most rigorous drug testing in sports, although most of those tests focus primarily on drugs perceived to have a greater influence on performance. While steroids are sometimes important for training, Waldrop said thepractice by some trainers of putting horses on excessive regimens close to race days must be stopped.

Despite those assurances, some lawmakers - including Ed Whitfield of Kentucky - argued horse racing lags far behind other sports in dealing with the problem of performance-enhancing drugs.

Whitfield suggested that if the sport doesn't take more aggressive steps to rid itself of steroids, the federal government might mandate the changes.

"Is it time to call the federal cavalry and send it chasing into your stables with guns blazing to clean up the sport of horseracing?" Whitfield said.

Although Whitfield didn't advocate any changes to current federal law, he asked hypothetically whether it would be appropriate to deny simulcasting rights to a state that refuses to comply with a steroid ban.

"No, that would not be unreasonable," Waldrop said.

Later, Waldrop pointed out that weakening the InterstateHorseracing Act, which allows tracks to broadcast offsite races andcollect bets, would essentially weaken the rights of states, eventhough the law was designed to strengthen them.

Waldrop said a model rule that puts restrictions on steroid use30 days before a race has already been adopted in Arizona, Arkansas,California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, New York,Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

Several other states - including Florida, Kentucky, Maryland andTexas - are expected to approve the rules by the end of the year,Waldrop said.

Congressman Joe Pitts asked why some states have delayed adoptingthe regulations.

Waldrop said that while a urine test currently exists, there isstill some scientific disagreement about a plasma or blood test,which he thinks should be available this summer.

"We're seeing compliance and support we've never seen before,"Waldrop said. "I've yet to hear a horseman say we do not want tostop the use of steroids. What they say is we want to test plasma."

Waldrop was among several sports figures to testify beforelawmakers who say they might try again to legislate drug-testingpolicies. He said it was the first time he or any NTRA official hasappeared before Congress to discuss the issue.



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