Backing for anti-doping racing bill in US reaches crucial milestone

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Horse racing at Golden Gate Fields, Albany, California. Photo: Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Horse racing at Golden Gate Fields, Albany, California. Photo: Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The patchwork quilt of racing jurisdictions across the United States may soon be under uniform anti-doping regulations, after support for a House bill garnered a crucial majority of co-sponsors.

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 would create a national anti-doping authority that would be independent of existing racing regulators.

The legislation now exceeds 218 co-sponsors, which is a majority of the 435 voting members of the House.

The bill was introduced in the House by Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY).

“Bi-partisan support from more than 218 members is a critical milestone because it demonstrates to House leadership that the bill will pass on the House floor,” said the executive director of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, Shawn Smeallie.

The coalition is an umbrella group for a diverse group of racing organizations, racetracks, owner and breeder associations, and animal welfare groups that support passage of the Act.

“Clearly Congress recognizes that the current patchwork quilt of state regulations that govern the industry is failing and an effective anti-doping program with a national set of drug standards is needed to bring equine safety and integrity back to the sport.”

The bill is being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. It is supported by the chair and original co-sponsor, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Other key members such as Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, strongly support the bill.

Following passage by the sub and full committees, the bill would advance to the House floor for a vote by the House of Representatives.

The Act will create a private, independent horse racing anti-doping authority, the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program for horse racing.

The new authority will create a set of uniform anti-doping rules, including lists of permitted and prohibited substances and methods in line with international anti-doping standards and veterinarian ethical standards.

The new nationwide rules would replace the current state-by-state regulatory mechanism that governs horse racing’s 38 separate racing jurisdictions.

The act was originally introduced by Congressmen Barr and Tonko in 2015 and was re-introduced by them in 2017 and 2019.

The 2017 version contained many refinements that were the result of collaborations among the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, horseracing industry constituents, and other interested parties.

The amended 2017 version of the bill, which is nearly identical to the current version, modified the 2015 version to:

  • Ensure that there would be no effect on the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978;
  • Increase the number of board members on the new authority with horse racing-related expertise;
  • Feature standing technical advisory committees, including active members from the racing industry;
  • Strengthen protections against retrospective enforcement of the rules before the act came into force;
  • Provide the industry with a “safety valve: to affect alternative regulatory approaches; and
  • Include a ban on the use of medication on race days.

“Momentum is building to reform the horse racing industry and establish a meaningful and effective drug control program,” continued Smeallie.

“This past year highlighted many of the challenges facing the horse racing industry, and the Horseracing Integrity Act will go a long way to improving the health of our equine athletes.”

The new authority would be governed by a board composed of six individuals who have shown expertise in a variety of horse racing areas, six individuals from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and the USADA’s chief executive.

The USADA is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for US Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports.

A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Martha McSally (R-AZ). It currently has 17 co-sponsors.

Passage of the House bill will help move the bill through the Senate.

The advocacy group Animal Wellness Action described the 218th cosponsor as a milestone for what it said was landmark legislation.

The bill, it said, would end the doping of American racehorses in competition.

“We’re thrilled to see the Horseracing Integrity Act, one of our top priorities in the 116th Congress, hit this mile marker,” said the group’s executive director, Marty Irby.

“American horseracing has dealt itself a self-inflicted wound, and Congress must pass this legislation quickly, or the debate will shift away from eliminating abuses in horseracing to eliminating horseracing itself.”

Horse racing in the US is currently regulated by 38 different racing jurisdictions, which limits regulators’ effective management of the many issues involved in the health and safety of racehorses.

The group said the new anti-doping body created under the legislation would help ensure racehorses were free from performance-enhancing drugs during racing and training, creating a safer environment for horses and jockeys.

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