Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Horseracing is at a crossroads, as today‘s congressional hearing on the future of horseracing made plain. An epidemic of racetrack deaths has highlighted a serious problem in the sport: the abuse of medications that place animals’ lives at risk by masking their injuries in order to keep them going on race day. Today, we hope, marks the start of a new era of heightened sensibility and enhanced protection for horses.

Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

We’ve been leading the fight for urgent reforms within American racing for a long time, pushing for federal legislation to protect the nation’s racehorses from irresponsible doping and medication. The bill we’re supporting, the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820, would replace the outdated state-by-state drug and medication rules, ban race day medication, and empower the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency—a non-profit organization that runs anti-doping programs for Olympics and Pan American sport in the U.S.—to establish an authority that will ensure a nationally uniform set of rules on the use of medication  in horseracing.

At today’s hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce/Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, we witnessed strong and broad support from leaders in the racing industry, two U.S. Congressmen, and Hall of Fame jockey, Chris McCarron, who all testified on behalf of the bill.

Joe DeFrancis, chair of the Humane Society of the United States National Horseracing Advisory Council and former CEO and controlling shareholder of the Maryland Jockey Club, testified that, “When baseball had its problems with performance-enhancing drugs, the players who cheated chose to put their bodies at risk in pursuit of the win-at-all-costs mentality. Racehorses have no say. Trainers determine what drugs are used, and when. If rogue trainers want to cheat, there is little in the current system to catch them, or more importantly, to deter them.”

McCarron, a founding member of the HSUS National Horseracing Advisory Council, told legislators that, “on average, two jockeys die each year due to training or racing accidents and two more are left paralyzed. The vast majority of these tragedies occur due to a horse’s breaking down. Very often these horses are racing with pre-existing conditions that have been masked by medication.”

Congressmen Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.—the bill’s lead sponsors whose districts each include major horseracing venues—are motivated by a deep desire to protect the lives of both horses and jockeys. 

“This hearing is an important step in furthering the conversation around the need for transparency and standardization in horseracing,” said Congressman Barr, who represents Lexington, Kentucky, a racing stronghold. “As the Representative of the Horse Capital of the World, I will continue to fight for the future of horseracing and build on this momentum to bring this vital legislation to the House floor for a vote.”

“Congressman Barr and I have worked for years to strengthen this bill,” said Rep Tonko, whose district includes the storied race track at Saratoga Springs. “We broke new ground in recent weeks by securing the support of more than half of our colleagues in the House of Representatives. News that the Subcommittee is moving forward with a legislative hearing dedicated to the bill reflects the momentum we have built and the unprecedented support we are now seeing in the halls of Congress and throughout the horseracing world,” he stated.

Today’s hearing was a key milestone in the campaign to secure better treatment for racing horses, but to get the measure across the finish line will take a lot more effort. We’ll continue to press Congress to bring the bill to the floor soon and to work with racing industry leaders to press for immediate and meaningful safety changes in the sport. And you, as advocates who care about protecting horses, can do the same. Please contact your federal legislators to urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to enact this bill swiftly.