Horsemen Don’t Need Federal Oversight, Monmouth Park Operator Insists

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Dennis Drazin, who operates Monmouth Park for New Jersey’s thoroughbred horsemen, appeared before a House of Representatives committee in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to oppose a bill intended to address a spate of deaths of racehorses in the past 18 months.

“I respectfully submit that the current version of this bill is not in the best interests of the racing industry and, more importantly, is not in the best interests of the health, safety, and welfare of our horses and jockeys,” Drazin said of the Horseracing Integrity Act.

The bill reads in part: “The use of therapeutic medications in horseracing in the United States must place the health and welfare of the horse at the highest level of priority while achieving consistency with the uses permitted in major international horseracing jurisdictions.”

But as part of his testimony at the committee hearing, Drazin informed the committee that the bill — if signed into law — could run into the same buzzsaw that in 2018 toppled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Drazin’s PASPA history

If anyone would know about that subject, it would be Drazin. He played a crucial role in a six-year legal battle that led the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the 26-year-old PASPA law, thereby opening the door for any state to offer legal, regulated sports betting.

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A little-understood facet of that court case is that there was no dispute over whether Congress could have outlawed sports betting — or that it could still do so tomorrow. Rather, PASPA was vacated because it unconstitutionally imposed a burden on states to oversee the ban in sports betting.

Similarly, Drazin testified, House Resolution 1754 would leave the federal government overstepping its limitation on the rights of individual state legislatures.

“From a legal perspective, this legislation is flawed from a constitutional standpoint and will undoubtedly be challenged by segments of our industry that are opposed to this legislation,” Drazin said before referencing the PASPA case known formally as “Murphy v. The NCAA et al.”

“A federal law cannot impose a federal regulatory scheme and compel, or commandeer, the states to pay for the funding mechanism” of drug testing and other desired regulations, Drazin said.

Horseracing community split on bill

The bill has some support within the horse racing community, however, including from New York Racing Association President David O’Rourke.

In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, O’Rourke said that “the passage of H.R. 1754 is vital to equine health and the integrity of our sport, as well as the many industries it supports.”

Former jockey Chris McCarron, who won six Triple Crown races, said that today’s horses are overworked.

“Instead of giving the animal the rest it needs, a trainer relies on his/her veterinarian to administer a medication to mask pain by reducing inflammation caused by an injury,” said McCarron, now a member of the U.S. Humane Society’s advisory council on horse racing. “I can tell you this for sure. Horses’ careers would last much longer if this practice was less prevalent.”

Still, Drazin testified: “I respectfully submit that the current version of this bill is not in the best interests of the racing industry and more importantly, is not in the best interests of the health, safety, and welfare of our horses and jockeys. In my opinion, H.R. 1754 would have an adverse impact upon the industry.

“I want to begin by telling you I am opposed and have been opposed for many years to the attempt to regulate the horseracing industry through federal legislation. I have advocated for about 20 years that the horseracing industry needs to conduct its business the same as a major sports league, with a commissioner who is empowered to regulate the industry.

“In my opinion, there is no need to have the federal government take over what is currently a state-by -state regulatory format,” he added.

Do-it-yourself plan is best, Drazin says

Drazin also stressed that the racing industry already is taking its own steps to improve racehorse safety, through a special committee formed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA).

The organization, Drazin said, “has been working hard for the past six months to advance an all-inclusive piece of legislation which would encompass not only a uniform anti-doping and medication control program and standardized medication protocol, but also would encompass significant areas of concern to the industry regarding racetrack safety, horse safety, uniformity in regulations throughout the country, and many other areas of concern.

“While I still believe that federal legislation is unnecessary, if it is inevitable, I want to be part of the solution and H.R. 1754 is not a solution, but only a small part of all the needed reforms for our industry.”

Drazin then addressed an area of controversy in horseracing reform discussions.

“I would be remiss if I did not address the Lasix issue,” he testified. “The majority of horses racing in America bleed. The AAEP, the national veterinarian organization, supports the use of Lasix (Furosemide) as a day-of-the-race medication to control [bleeding]. It is the only medication which is permitted on race day. Without the use of Lasix, horses will bleed while either training or racing. It is inconceivable and just not true for anyone to try to claim that Lasix had anything to do with the numerous breakdowns which occurred at Santa Anita Racetrack last year.

“I would go so far as to say that if anyone tries to convince you that Lasix was the cause of all of the breakdowns last year in Santa Anita, they are intentionally misleading you.”

Drazin continued: “The racetrack industry members who are working on a more comprehensive proposal have spent considerable time not only to address all of the important issues needed for racetrack safety and horse safety, but we have also spent considerable time trying to analyze the potential constitutional infirmities and practical difficulties trying to craft federal legislation that would be a more comprehensive bill to address these issues.”

Is compromise the answer?

For all his objections, Drazin said he is willing to be practical.

“Because we recognize that there is considerable support in the House for H.R. 1754 and it would be a setback to start from scratch by introducing a new bill, and notwithstanding that others feel that a new bill is more appropriate, the consensus which I support is that we should make significant amendments to H.R. 1754, instead of just introducing a stand-alone competing bill.”

Drazin, who is president of the law firm of Drazin and Warshaw, has owned, raised, bred, and raced horses in New Jersey for 40 years. He was chairman of the state racing commission before taking over operation of Monmouth Park a decade ago, after Governor Chris Christie elected to privatize the industry.

Photo by Kent Weakley / Shutterstock.com
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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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