Horse Deaths Underscore Wisdom of Horseracing Integrity Act

As deaths mount at Santa Anita Racetrack and at other tracks throughout the United States, it is clear that Congress must act to address fundamental problems with the sport.  Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and high-profile Republican Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ), have signaled that they want to lead the charge to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act. They’ve introduced S. 1820, which seeks to protect American racehorses through the establishment of a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in horse racing. It would also grant drug rulemaking, testing, and enforcement oversight to a private, non-profit, self-regulatory independent organization managed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – the governing body that runs the Olympic anti-doping program.

The House companion, H.R. 1754, led by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Andy Barr (R-KY), from two of the top horse racing districts in the U.S., (Saratoga Springs and Lexington, respectively) now with more than 125 cosponsors, has steadily attracted more support since its original introduction several years ago.  But this is the first time there has been a parallel bill in the Senate, and that circumstance has obviously been fueled by the headlines about horse deaths from across the nation.  

This landmark legislation is supported by a broad base of industry players, including members of the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity, which range from The Jockey Club, The Preakness, The Belmont, The Breeders’ Cup, Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (that includes veterinarians, and more than a hundred trainers), racetracks and Animal Wellness Action.  The measure is endorsed by numerous jockeys including Chris McCarron, who has won The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes, and The Belmont Stakes all three – twice, and Julie Krone, the first woman to win a Triple Crown race and be inducted into the National Horse Racing Museum and Hall of Fame.

Today horse racing operates under an outdated, state-based, balkanized patchwork of medication rules that creates confusion and risk for owners and trainers and contains gaps in rules and enforcement. The Horseracing Integrity Act would greatly improve regulatory standards, ban the use of all medications on race day, and level the playing field for everyone invested in horse racing — our horses, jockeys, trainers, owners and fans alike.

While many professional sports have taken crucial steps to rid their games of illegal doping, the racing industry continues to lag behind — not because of a lack of leadership, but because too many players are simply satisfied with the status quo, which has led to a multitude of equine deaths each year.

Horse racing is a big American sport, employing 400,000 in this country, with a big impact across the nation.  The Jockey Club’s own independent polling in May of this year revealed that 95 percent of likely voters said they would be “much more” or “somewhat more” favorable to horse racing if an independent group, such as USADA (which regulates Olympic athletes), created and enforced medication rules at least as stringent as for other professional sports.

This isn’t the first time Congress has taken a look into horse racing. In fact, in 2008, after Eight Belles was euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs following her second-place finish in The Kentucky Derby, a House committee convened a series of hearings, wherein the industry promised to unite and modernize its regulations. Today, very few states are compliant with the minimum standards the industry has set for itself. The inability of the industry to better protect its equine and human athletes, as well as the interests of fans, underscores the need for the Horseracing Integrity Act to pass during the 116th Congress before the end of 2020. If Congress passes the Act, it will provide an opportunity to help protect animals and add value, jobs, and bring safety to U.S. horse racing once again.

We applaud Senator Gillibrand and Senator McSally’s work to end doping in horse racing, and hope that our society’s ever-growing desire to protect animals will move the legislation through the Congress, and onto President Trump’s desk for the bill to be inked into law. Take action today by clicking here to send a direct message to your Members of Congress – the horses are counting on you.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C.

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