Legislation that aims to prevent horse racing fatalities by creating national anti-doping standards is making bipartisan headway in both houses of Congress.
On the same day that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and three co-sponsors introduced the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted, 46-5, to send H.R. 1754 to the full House.
“Our bill delivers common sense medication and track safety standards that protect America’s horses and jockeys, needed progress that will put this popular and historic sport on track for a strong recovery and a bright future,” says Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., who sponsored the House bill and whose district includes Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Horse racing is more than the sport of kings, it also supports countless jobs and drives vital economic activity in communities all across America.”
The House bill advanced with amendments that matched McConnell’s legislation.
“The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act … will help protect this sport for the future with uniform, national standards,” McConnell says. “Baseball, football, and other professional sports have a central regulatory authority, and Thoroughbred racing should too.”
The legislation is a response from federal lawmakers after a series of doping scandals and equine racetrack fatalities. It would federally recognize the independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority as an enforcement entity that establishes uniform standards for medication, track safety and testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
“I'm pleased to join Leader McConnell in introducing a bill to finally establish uniform, nationwide standards to protect racehorses, jockeys and the integrity of the sport,” says Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who joins Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) as lead sponsors. “Given the troubling number of racehorse deaths in recent years, this legislation is a step in the right direction, and I will continue working to ensure that increased safety standards, like those adopted in California, are applied nationally.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) applauded the legislation in a joint blog.
“A big part of the problem has been the lack of clear standards for medications [that] trainers use to mask pain or enhance the performance of horses,” according to the blog that was co-authored by Kitty Block, president and CEO of the HSUS, and Sara Amundson, president of the HSLF. “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.”
Although the legislation has experienced wide bipartisan support and is endorsed by several Thoroughbred organizations such as Churchill Downs Inc., The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, it isn’t sitting well with some in the harness racing industry. The U.S. Trotting Association (USTA) is taking issue with the legislation after the original bill targeted Thoroughbred racing, but amendments have changed its focus.
“The bill has since been bastardized by an array of outside interests, and harness racing again has been pulled into the mix,” according to the USTA. “A review of the revised language reveals that the bill is now a virtual clone of H.R. 1754 (Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019), and will harm, not help, Standardbred horses and the harness racing industry.”
While the USTA says it supports “state-regulated, breed-specific, uniform medication rules for horse racing,” it says the HISA introduces unintended consequences for harness racing. USTA concerns include the ban on the race-day use of Lasix, the inequitable costs for harness racing, and the use of an agency that reportedly has no background in testing animals for performance-enhancing drugs.
• Lasix. The USTA points out that veterinarians support the use of Lasix as the only known treatment of Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH), which causes bleeding in the lungs of horses.
“Proponents of the ban on the use of Lasix have purposely disseminated misleading information on the percentage of horses that suffer EIPH when they say that only 5% of horses ‘bleed’ during racing,” according to the USTA, noting that the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians support the use of Lasix and oppose the legislation. “That statistic is the percentage of horses that suffer epistaxis, the most severe form of EIPH involving patent hemorrhaging from the nose. In fact, about 90% of horses bleed into their lungs during racing, with each bout of EIPH causing irreparable damage to lung tissue.”
• Inequitable costs. Indications from proponents of the legislation suggest that the independent enforcement arm will be funded through a surcharge to owners and trainers each time a horse races. While the average Thoroughbred races six times a year, the average Standardbred races 19 times a year.
“This newly created regulatory body will have to impose additional fees and costs on the industry with no oversight mechanism in place,” according to the USTA. “Harness racing horsemen will be hit particularly hard because most of them are working-class people. It will drive many of them out of business.”
• Testing and oversight. The USTA opposes the use of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in testing the animals for performance-enhancing drugs, simply because it says the organization has no background in animal testing. In addition, USTA decries that the bill does not mandate consultation with the National Veterinary Service Labs for drug testing or the USDA Veterinary Services.
“The USTA promotes and insists upon the humane and ethical treatment of its horses,” according to the USTA. “Despite its inaccurate title indicating that it will make horses safe, this bill does the opposite. Whether it is right for Thoroughbred racing — its intended target — is not our concern. It most certainly is wrong for harness racing, will harm our industry, and puts our horses and participants at risk.”