American racing requires federal oversight, says HSUS boss

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Kitty Block
Kitty Block

The patchwork of horse racing rules across American states has been criticized by the acting head of the Humane Society of the United States, who says federal oversight is necessary.

Kitty Block, the organization’s acting president and chief executive, says big events such as today’s running of the Belmont Stakes, the third and final race in the Triple Crown series, may draw big crowds.

“But once the race ends and the tracks are empty again, the horse racing industry will find itself in a poor position, lagging behind in the popularity race,” she writes in her blog, A Humane Nation.

“The drugging of horses by certain veterinarians and trainers to boost race performance and the continuing scandals surrounding the sale of racehorses to slaughter houses where they are turned into meat, have cast a cloud over the sport.

“Today, at most races other than the Triple Crown, horses run at tracks with increasingly empty bleachers occupied by an aging and shrinking fan base.”

Block says the society has been working with stakeholders in the racing industry who want to prioritize animal welfare concerns, like widespread drugging, ending the slaughter of racehorses for human consumption overseas, and expanding second career opportunities.

Current efforts center on the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.2651, a federal bill that focuses on medication reform and includes a ban on race-day medication.

“Despite its national and international scope, modern horse racing is still being conducted under outdated state-by-state drug and medication rules and this obsolete model is ripe for change.”

The bill, she says, will make all of the difference.

“There is a strong need for a federal law because unlike other sports, horse racing has no central regulatory body to provide oversight or to sanction those who flout rules.

“Each state’s racing commission determines what drugs are used and what penalties are meted out for violators, and the result is a patchwork of many different sets of rules.

“Many states have extremely permissive medication rules and a lax attitude toward those who break the laws.”

She says the routine drugging of horses to give them a leg up in competition has to end.

“We would not approve of this in any other sport, and we should not turn a blind eye to this practice in the horse racing industry.

“Too many horses have died in recent years as a result of widespread drugging and Congress needs to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act to ensure these abuses are outlawed once and for all.”

Block says that the responsible retiring of racehorses, ensuring them a happy and meaningful life at the end of their track careers, is an industry and owner responsibility.

“While too many horses still lack a sufficient safety net after their racing careers, we are encouraged by some of the industry initiatives for thoroughbred aftercare.

“And while there is still work to do, we are optimistic about the prospects for even better and more innovative programs for aftercare in the thoroughbred racing industry.”

She said the society applauds efforts to date by the thoroughbred racing community in this area. “We would encourage both the standardbred and quarter horse communities to follow the thoroughbred racing industry’s valuable example in this regard.”

She continues: “One principle unites the issues of drugging abuse and aftercare. These incredible equine athletes deserve to participate on a level playing field where their welfare both during and after their racing careers is a priority. And we must work together with every willing partner to ensure this worthy outcome.”

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