US racing body calls for drastic reforms to cut horse deaths

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Racing at Santa Anita. © The Stronach Group

A major reform of horse racing in the US is in the wind, with the Jockey Club calling for a major overhaul of drug use and uniform out-of-competition drug testing, citing the need for “transparency into the medical treatment, injuries, and health of all racehorses.”

The Jockey Club’s release today of a white paper calls for comprehensive reform of the US horse racing industry, following the deaths of 22 racehorses at California’s Santa Anita Park in less than three months. The Jockey Club wrote that “it would be a mistake to view the Santa Anita fatalities as an isolated situation — spikes in the deaths of horses have occurred at other tracks and they will continue to occur without significant reforms.”

The national racing body was critical of drug use in the industry, and said that misuse can directly lead to horse injuries and deaths. “Horses aren’t human and the only way they can tell us if something is wrong is by reacting to a symptom. If that symptom is masked, the results can be devastating.”

And that “we lag behind cheaters and abusers and by the time we have caught up they have moved on to the next designer substance.”

The Jockey Club expressed its strong support for federal legislation citing the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019, H.R. 1754, which would create a private, independent, horse racing anti-doping authority responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program. The program would be administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the body responsible for administering anti-doping programs for human athletes including the US Olympic teams.

“For far too long, cheaters have been abusing the system and the horses are most often the ones to suffer,” said James L. Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club.

“It is particularly disturbing that there is little out-of-competition drug testing in the United States. US horse racing lags far behind international standards. It’s time we joined the rest of the world in putting in place the best measures to protect the health and safety of our equine athletes.”

In addition to reforming how drugs are used and monitored, The Jockey Club is calling for other reforms targeted at health of equine athletes, including enhanced race surface analysis, training and race injury reporting, and industry-wide contributions to aftercare.

“Will we ever know the exact cause of spikes in horse fatalities? Unless there is change in the industry that answer is, sadly, probably not,” wrote The Jockey Club. “A key to this change is the requirement of full transparency into the medical treatment, injuries, and health of all racehorses. Today, we can’t fully see what is going on with a horse because of differing state and track practices, antiquated practices, and purposeful deceit about what drugs are given to horses at what times.”

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One thought on “US racing body calls for drastic reforms to cut horse deaths

  • March 29, 2019 at 10:59 am
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    It is more than time for this necessary legislation and oversight. I approve of the suggestion for for an independent body to administer and regulate testing for drug and medication use. I believe this practice will clear out many of the fringe horse owners and trainers whose priority is to win money, without regard for their horses’ welfare I would like to see this legislation implemented across the Nation. The results will be remarkable. There is a new era of horse racing on the horizon.

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