By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Legislation to reform horse racing is in full gallop in Congress, with bipartisan members of the House and Senate joining forces to end the reckless drugging of horses and improve the safety of the tracks on which they run.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 46-5 to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act with a critical substitute amendment offered by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., with bipartisan support from Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky. A companion bill, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, was introduced today in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and it has the support of some of the industry’s biggest stakeholders.
The new companion bills in the House and Senate would ban race-day medication and they would create a racetrack safety program by establishing a uniform set of track safety standards. They would also put in place a uniform anti-doping and medication control program for all 38 racing jurisdictions.
These are exciting developments that we have long worked for. With an average of 8.5 horses dying at the races every week, the need for Congressional action is critical. Our Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund teams have pushed relentlessly for horse racing reform, working with lawmakers and progressive industry reformers to draft and introduce bills to clean up the sport.
When Sen. McConnell announced his bill last week, we wanted to support it, as other organizations chose to do, but further work was needed to strengthen the bill and mitigate unwanted consequences. We worked through this last week into the holiday with the industry and the bills’ sponsors to ensure that both bills reflected our concerns. The current versions of the bills reduce federal interference in the ability of states to create laws and regulations to fight animal cruelty against equines. The bills will also ensure that those who mistreat horses are not making the rules for the industry. We believe the bills are better for these changes, thereby boosting their chances of passage.
There hasn’t been a better time, or opportunity, to reform horse racing. The sport has been plagued by high-profile scandals, including a wave of horse deaths and the indictments earlier this year of trainers and veterinarians in a doping scandal. These incidents have finally focused the spotlight on problems that have long flooded horse racing, drawing criticism and calls for change from within the industry.
A big part of the problem has been the lack of clear standards for medications trainers use to mask pain or enhance the performance of horses. Racing occurs in 38 states, and unscrupulous owners and trainers can currently move racehorses from one jurisdiction to another with fewer restrictions to continue doping horses and avoid penalties.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 would give the job of implementing an anti-doping and medication program to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the entity appointed to handle drug testing for all U.S. Olympic athletes, and create a new Authority that would be responsible for, among other things:
- Implementing, publishing and maintaining rules regarding substances, methods and treatments administered to thoroughbred race horses;
- Establishing uniform rules imposing sanctions for those who violate the rules;
- Establishing racetrack safety regulations, including more oversight of racetrack surfaces, which are responsible for some race horse injuries and deaths.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020, in its current version, will greatly improve protections for America’s race horses, and we’ll be pushing for its passage with all of our might. In addition to enjoying bipartisan support in Congress, the bill is also endorsed by Churchill Downs Incorporated, the Louisville-based operator of the Kentucky Derby, The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
We are grateful to all of the lawmakers who worked with us to ensure that horses are protected from those who exploit them in the worst possible ways. Your help is invaluable as always, so please write to your federal legislators today. Ask them to support the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 and get it over the finish line in coming weeks.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.