Three US lawmakers have revealed draft legislation intended to tackle doping in horse racing and remove cheaters from the sport.
The draft bill from US Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and US Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-Ken.) and Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) was unveiled ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would provide the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) with authority to clean up the sport and enforce anti-doping standards in races with simulcast wagering.
The USADA is a non-governmental organization designated as the official anti-doping agency for the US Olympics and works with sports leagues to strengthen clean competition policies.
“The chronic abuse of race horses with painkillers and other drugs is dangerous and just plain wrong,” Udall said.
“Racing groups have promised drug reform for decades, but this bill would bring in real standards and enforcement from an organization with a proven record for cleaning up sports.”
Whitfield said: “For too long, the safety of jockeys and equine athletes has been neglected for the pursuit of racing profits.
“The doping of injured horses and forcing them to compete is deplorable and must be stopped. Despite repeated promises from the racing industry to end this practice, meaningful action and oversight has yet to come forth.
“This legislation would bring much-needed reforms to an industry that supports thousands of jobs and is enjoyed by spectators nationwide.”
Pitt said he chaired a hearing last year that looked into the problems of both legal and illegal drugs in horseracing.
“We heard testimony about how abuse of drugs is killing horses and imperiling riders. Before more people and animals are hurt, we need to put a responsible national authority in charge of cleaning up racing. This is a sensible, bipartisan measure to restore trust in racing and protect lives.”
Twenty-four horses die each week from racing injuries in North America.
Under the new legislation, the USADA would develop rules for permitted and prohibited substances and create anti-doping education, research, testing ,and adjudication programs for horseracing.
It would also:
- Put an end to race day medication.
- Set a harmonized medication policy framework for all races with interstate simulcast wagering.
- Require stiff penalties for cheating, including “one and done” and “three strikes, you’re out” lifetime bans for the worst cases.
- Ensure racehorse drug administrations comply with veterinary ethics.
Last year, Udall, Whitfield and Pitts participated in Congressional hearings that explored medication and performance enhancing drug problems in horseracing.
In previous years the lawmakers introduced similar legislation tasking the Federal Trade Commission to improve the sport. The new approach, however, would enable USADA to act as the anti-doping body without amending the Interstate Horseracing Act or involving any federal agency or regulation. The legislation would not require any federal taxpayer funds.
The president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Michael Markarian, welcomed the bill.
Writing in his blog, Markarian said that under the bill, any racetrack that wanted to offer “simulcast” wagering, where most of the industry’s money was made, would first need to have an agreement with USADA.
“That agreement would include covering the costs of the anti-doping measures. This bill would cost taxpayers nothing.
“Currently, each state’s racing commission sets its own rules, allowing trainers to escape oversight by simply moving to another state.
“With no national governing body for the sport—like an NHL, NFL, or NBA—there is no consistency across the country.”
Markarian continued: “The racing industry’s half-hearted attempts at reform have failed to protect racehorses from being treated as disposable, rather than highly skilled athletes and companions, despite a number of high-profile incidents and scathing exposés.
“Just as Congress and the nation have taken seriously the problems of doping in baseball, bicycling, and other sports, it’s time to get serious about doping in horseracing.”
The American move follows damaging revelations in Britain over the use of anabolic steroids in 15 horses trained by Mahmood Al Zarooni.
Al Zarooni was banned for eight years after he admitted to a “catastrophic error” in administering the steroids to 15 horses. The animals were part of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s prestigious Godolphin racing enterprise.
Two banned steroids, ethylestranol and stanozolol, were detected in the testing of 11 horses trained by Al Zarooni at his yard in Newmarket early in April. He admitted that four other horses not tested by authorities had also received the banned drugs.
Al Zarooni was interviewed and explained that his knowledge of the drug came from working in Dubai, where use of anabolic steroids in training is permitted.
He told the investigating officer that he thought the drug could be used in Britain if a horse was not racing – an explanation rejected by the British Horseracing Authority’s Disciplinary panel.
British racing officials indicated after the hearing that they intend to discuss steroid use with their overseas counterparts following the drugs scandal.
The chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, Paul Bittar, signalled that steroid use needed to be discussed by global racing authorities.
“This case has served to highlight something that we were already aware of, in that there are inconsistencies across international racing jurisdictions regarding what substances are permitted to be used in training,” Bittar said.
“While around the world, horse-racing bodies quite rightly adopt a zero tolerance policy to the presence of anabolic steroids when carrying out post-race testing, the approach is not so consistent for horses in training.
“In an age of increasing international travel and competition we will put the subject on the agenda for discussion with our international colleagues.”
It has since been reported that the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities is reviewing its guidelines on anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in a bid to remove international consistencies.
It is reported to be considering whether to recommend a total ban on administering such steroids.
Two committees will look at drafting new rules for consideration by the authority’s executive council in October. If approved, the new rules could be in force by January 1.
- Section by section summary of the bill
- Draft legislative text