“Horse-first bill” to combat doping of US racehorses

Horse racing at Golden Gate Fields, Albany, California. Photo: Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Horse racing in the US is covered by 38 state jurisdictions, which allow varying medications. Photo: Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A bill to create a new, independent authority in the US to combat doping in the horse racing industry has been reintroduced into the House of Representatives. 

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, HR 1754, would create a private, independent horse racing anti-doping authority, the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority (HADA), responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program for horse racing. The new set of rules, testing procedures, and penalties would replace the current patchwork of regulatory systems that govern horse racing’s 38 jurisdictions.

Several US-based advocacy groups which are part of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity (CHRI) announced their support for the bill introduced by US Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY) this week.

“This is a horse-first bill. This bill will help ensure a safer environment for horses and riders at all tracks,” said Shawn Smeallie, executive director of CHRI.

Paul Tonko
Congressman Paul Tonko

“Representatives Tonko and Barr, along with their respective staff members, have worked tirelessly on this legislation. Thanks to their efforts, this initiative has gained the support of key stakeholders across the industry and continues to gain momentum. We look forward to working with other racing industry organizations to ensure productive legislative activity this year.”

Tonko said he and his team had been “chomping at the bit to get the Horseracing Integrity Act back in the starting gate for the 116th Congress.”

“We set a fast pace last session, garnering more cosponsors down the stretch than ever before in our efforts to get this bill across the finish line. In all seriousness, I look forward to continuing our important bipartisan work to pass this worthy legislation so that we can do right by our equine athletes and ensure that horse racing can thrive as an industry that will capture the public’s imagination for generations to come.”

Barr, a congressman from Kentucky said he believed the future prosperity of the state’s signature horse racing industry depended on national uniform standards and testing procedures that are critical to the integrity and safety of the sport.

HADA would be governed by a board of six individuals with expertise in a variety of horse-racing areas, six individuals from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and its chief executive officer. USADA is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the US Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports.

Passage of HR 1754 will result in a substantial increase in out-of-competition testing, which will help ensure horses are free from performance-enhancing drugs during racing and training.

HR 1754 is nearly identical to the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2651), also introduced by Reps. Barr and Tonko, which garnered the bipartisan support of more than 130 representatives last Congress. Joining the effort in 2019 are Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection & Commerce, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. CHRI is hopeful and optimistic that the legislation will move through the committee process this year, building on this strong showing of support from key lawmakers.

Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, said the group was proud of the key leaders in the horse racing industry and animal protection groups that have come together on the bill.

“Horse should run on hay, oats, and water, not on a cocktail of performance enhancers and medications,” Irby said.

“Our organization has already completed more than 150 meetings with key legislators on this issue in 2019, and we are pleased to join leaders in the horse racing industry and animal protection groups that have come together to end a shameful period where unscrupulous trainers have put horses and jockeys at risk.”

Animal Wellness Action founder Wayne Pacelle said horse racing was a national industry and deserved a national regulatory framework.

“We don’t need one more broken-down horse or crippled jockey on an American racetrack. We are pleased to work with so many leaders in the highest ranks of thoroughbred racing put this industry back on course.”


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