Federal anti-drugging rules are needed in horse racing to replace typically weak and highly variable state-based rules, the head of the Humane Society of the United States says.
President and chief executive Wayne Pacelle says there is cause for hope that Congress may finally impose federal controls to clamp down on illicit drug use in the sport.
The society is among a coalition of horse industry and animal welfare groups backing legislation introduced by Congressmen Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.
Their bill would create a single independent organization to set up and enforce uniform national anti-doping rules for thoroughbred racing under the auspices of the US Anti-Doping Agency.
“It’s our hope that the Barr-Tonko legislation, which covers just thoroughbred racing, will be amended – as the bill moves forward – to cover all horse racing,” Pacelle wrote in his blog, A Humane Nation.
“Doping horses for racing is more dangerous today than ever because breeding practices – which select for speed and champagne-glass legs – make the horses less sturdy and more vulnerable to breakdowns than they were even 10 or 20 years ago,” he said.
Pacelle said regulation of the industry was fragmented, with each of 38 racing jurisdictions having its own set of rules.
“They allow different medications, varying levels of permissible drugs, different penalties for violations, different rules on which horses are tested for drugs, and different laboratories to do the testing.
“Without one single regulating body, racehorse owners and trainers who are barred from racing in one jurisdiction can simply shop for a more permissive venue.”
Racing was a national industry that required national standards, he argued.
“The industry is also plagued with dozens of poorly run and regulated tracks having fatality rates as much as three times the national average.”
Racing was in desperate need of a makeover, he asserted, saying it needed to start with putting the horses ahead of profits.
Doping not only posed risks for horses and jockeys, but made a mockery of bettors doing their due diligence and picking winners on the track, he said.
“Doping scrambles the deck, and allows drugged horses to out-compete those horses who are running on hay, oats, and water alone. No other racing nation in the world allows the drug-for-all that we permit here in the United States on race day.”
The independent organization created by the Barr-Tonko bill would comprise of representatives from the US Anti-Doping Agency – the same body recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sports in the United States – and members of the thoroughbred horse racing industry.
The legislation is supported by The Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup, the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and other major racing industry organizations, horse owners, track owners, and trainers.
Pacelled noted that Congressman Pitts and Congresswomen Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., had also reintroduced the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R.2641), which would offer the promise of creating meaningful anti-doping reform across the entire interstate horse-racing industry.
“This is a good bill, but is unlikely to move without industry support,” Pacelle said. “It’s our hope that Reps. Barr, Tonko, Pitts, Schakowsky, and Eshoo, and Sen. Udall will continue to keep the dialogue going and settle on a final bill that forward-thinking horse-industry representatives and animal welfare groups can support, so we can finally stop these terrible abuses on the track.”
Pacelle opined that it was time for Congress to impose some rules on an industry that had failed to clean up its problems on its own. “There’s never been a better moment for action.”