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Originally published Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 11:07 AM

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Lawmakers seek ban on doping in horse racing

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is seeking a national ban on performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing, calling for a federal role in a sport that lacks uniform standards.

Associated Press

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A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is seeking a national ban on performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing, calling for a federal role in a sport that lacks uniform standards.

Under the legislation by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., any person with three violations of the prohibition would be permanently banned from horse racing. A horse that tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs three times would receive a ban of at least two years.

The bill comes three years after some in the industry urged the federal government to get involved, following the death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. A drug test proved that the horse was clear of steroids, but the incident helped shine a light on safety problems and the lack of a single governing body. Rick Dutrow, trainer of the Derby winner Big Brown, acknowledged he regularly injected the horse with the then-legal steroid stanozolol.

Prominent horse owner Jess Jackson, who died last week, pleaded at that hearing: "We need a league and a commissioner. We need action, please. Congress, help."

At the time, Whitfield indicated Congress would soon get involved.

"I think that we are going to be looking at some legislation to deal with this," he said at the hearing, but no bill has been proposed until now.

Most states have since banned steroids, but enforcement has been uneven.

In addition to toughening penalties, the bill would ban substances such as Lasix, a diuretic that can enhance performance. Lasix is banned in most other countries. And the legislation would require that the winner of each race be tested for performance-enhancing drugs.

Udall and Whitfield plan to unveil the bill next week, ahead of the May 7 Kentucky Derby. The Associated Press obtained a draft of the legislation Thursday.

"The unfortunate reality is that not all is well with the sport of horseracing," Udall said. "Too many racehorses are overmedicated and doped, and I believe the sport of kings is no place for such a drug problem. That's why I plan to introduce legislation next week that would help bring integrity back to racing, while protecting the health and safety of the horses at the center of it all."

The legislation would add new provisions to the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which grants simulcasting rights that now account for much of the industry's profits.

The industry has acknowledged problems with doping. Last month, the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which represents racing jurisdictions across the United States and Canada, called on the industry and regulators to phase out drugs and medications over five years.

William Koester, the association's new chairman, says the pervasive doping of horses detracts from the sport's public image.

"Today over 99 percent of thoroughbred racehorses and 70 percent of standardbred racehorses have a needle stuck in them four hours before a race," Koester said, in announcing the five-year goal. "That just does not pass the smell test with the public or anyone else except horse trainers who think it necessary to win a race."

The racing association did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment on the legislation.

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