The US House of Representatives has passed a bill aimed at tackling drug use within American horse racing.
The Horseracing Integrity Act will prohibit race-day medications, aligning US standards with nearly every other racing jurisdiction around the world.
The legislation will also create an independent anti-doping authority to set uniform national standards and penalties.
Industry leaders and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are backing the Senate version of the bill, which has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote. The companion bill, known as the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, was introduced on September 9.
Its prospects for passing the Senate this session appear promising.
Both the House and Senate versions enjoy broad support among animal protection groups and a wide range of stakeholders within the horseracing industry, including the owners/operators of all three Triple Crown racetracks, The Jockey Club, and Breeders’ Cup Ltd.
The House bill, introduced by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), aims to replace the inconsistent and often lax regulatory schemes that currently exist among 38 jurisdictions.
Under the bill, the US Anti-Doping Agency will handle enforcement, laboratory testing, and violations.
The legislation also addresses racetrack safety by creating an accreditation program to ensure that tracks comply with maintenance procedures, as well as a national database to track injuries and fatalities.
There are about 8.5 fatalities per week in US racing, according to The Jockey Club’s equine injury database. That number excludes fatalities that occur during training.
Those pushing for reform believe an overreliance on performance-enhancing drugs contributes to the death rate.
The bill amassed 261 cosponsors in the House, signaling overwhelming support among federal lawmakers.
The Animal Welfare Institute praised its passage, amid hopes it will reduce fatalities and injuries, and end the reliance on performance-enhancing drugs to mask pain, inflammation, and other warning signs that often precede catastrophic breakdowns.
Its president, Cathy Liss, said: “The senseless loss of life occurring on racetracks must stop now. The Horseracing Integrity Act would provide much-needed oversight and directly improve the welfare of racehorses in the United States.”
Tonko said: “After nearly six years working to advance this bipartisan legislation to modernize horseracing in the United States, we are at long last rounding the final turn.
“Our Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act puts the health and well-being of our equine athletes and jockeys firmly at the center of the sport, and delivers commonsense medication and track safety standards that will lift this noble sport to higher standards of integrity and safety.
“These long-overdue reforms will help restore public trust in the sport and put it on a path to a long and vital future, supporting countless jobs and driving economic activity in communities across our nation.
“I thank my longtime collaborator and friend, Congressman Barr, for leading with me in this effort to restore integrity to our sport of kings. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to advance their companion legislation without delay and deliver it swiftly to the president to sign into law.”
Barr said he was thrilled that the Act has passed in the house. “This legislation will lead to the creation of uniform national standards for medication and track safety that will protect our equine and human athletes while ensuring our sport can operate safely and effectively. I look forward to this legislation passing the Senate and being signed into law.”
Humane Society of the United States president and chief executive Kitty Block and her colleague Sara Amundson, in their blog, A Humane Nation, said the bill tackles some of the key reasons behind the growing numbers of racehorse deaths in recent years, including doping and the use of painkillers that mask pain in order to allow injured horses to train or race.
“If this bill becomes law, racehorses would only be allowed to compete if they are free from such drugs.”
They said the society, and the related Humane Society Legislative Fund, have supported horse racing reform for years.
“We have been hard at work to ensure that horses get the protections they deserve.”
They said the death rate on tracks amounts to an animal protection crisis.
“We commend House members for their swift and decisive vote to end it. Next, we urge you to join us in ensuring that the commonsense reforms in this bill become law. Please contact your Senators and ask them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, S. 4547, so racehorses do not continue to suffer silently at the hands of greedy trainers who value winning over the animals’ safety and welfare.”
Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.