Lawmakers pass US racing reform bill bringing national anti-doping and medication standards

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Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act would create a national framework to rein in illicit drug use and create uniform racing safety standards across the country.
File image. Photo by Gene Devine

Racing reforms are on their way across the United States after Congress passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act as part of a massive spending bill, which included $US900 million in Covid relief.

The racing legislation, backed by several important industry bodies and widely supported by lawmakers, will require national, uniform safety standards that include anti-doping and medication control, as well as racetrack safety programs.

The fractured nature of anti-doping and track safety efforts across the country’s 38 racing jurisdictions has long been the subject of criticism.

Supporters of the bill argued that the patchwork of regulations undermined the public’s confidence in horseracing, threatened the integrity of competition, and, in the view of advocacy groups, endangered the human and equine athletes.

The passage of the racing legislation was within what is believed to be the largest legislative package in US history.

The 5593-page bill, passed by both the House and Senate, combines 12 regular appropriations bills for the 2021 fiscal year, covering $US1.4 trillion in spending.

The bill is awaiting the signature of the president.

Racing reforms applauded

The Animal Welfare Institute applauded the passage of the racing reforms, which it hopes will reduce horse fatalities and injuries and end the reliance on performance-enhancing drugs to mask pain, inflammation, and other warning signs that often precede catastrophic breakdowns.

Under the bill, the independent anti-doping authority for racing will set uniform national standards, testing procedures, and penalties for Thoroughbred racing.

The nonprofit US Anti-Doping Agency — the nation’s premier anti-doping organization — will handle enforcement, laboratory testing, and violations.

The bill will prohibit race-day medications, aligning US standards with those abroad.

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.

“We are grateful that Congress has stepped in to hold the industry accountable and curb the reckless use of performance-enhancing drugs, which force horses to compete beyond their physical limits,” the institute’s president, Cathy Liss, said.

She thanked the lawmakers who promoted the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserve to be protected,” McConnell said. “I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it.

“We’re one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across Thoroughbred racing.”

Representative Andy Barr (R-KY), who promoted the bill in the House, said he had made it a priority to pursue historic reforms in the horse racing industry that will solidify the future of the sport.

“Congress put us one step closer toward achieving this goal by passing the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. Our legislation creates a uniform standard of competition for the industry and safety standards to protect equine athletes.”

He thanked lawmakers who backed efforts to pass the bill.

Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY), who with Barr led the push for the bill in the House, said it will put horses and jockeys front and center, delivering commonsense medication reforms and track safety standards that will restore public trust and confidence.

“After this long race, I am delighted to see our legislation finally reach the winner’s circle and I look forward to ensuring a strong implementation of these new standards so that the sport of horseracing can thrive for generations to come.”

Jockey Club chairman Stuart S. Janney III.
Jockey Club chairman Stuart S. Janney III.

The US Jockey Club hailed the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act as signifying meaningful change for the Thoroughbred racing industry in the US.

The bill, it says, will make the sport safer and fairer for Thoroughbred racehorses and jockeys.

Jockey Club chairman Stuart S. Janney III thanked lawmakers who promoted the bill, including McConnell, Barr and Tonko.

The passage of the bill puts the sport’s medication and safety policies in the US on par with those of other major racing jurisdictions around the world, Janney said. The US Anti-Doping Agency is ideally suited for the role it has been given under the legislation, he added.

“This would not have been possible without the outstanding support we received from the original members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, many of the prominent organizations in Thoroughbred racing, the leaders in the Standardbred industry, in particular Jeff Gural of the Meadowlands, and the numerous animal welfare groups that rallied their members to voice support for Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.”

A win for animals

The president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, Kitty Block, in her blog A Humane Nation with colleague Sara Amundson, said the wide-ranging spending bill passed by Congress includes several wins for animals.

As well as the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, the omnibus bill also renews the annual provision that defunds US Department of Agriculture inspections at domestic horse slaughter plants, effectively preventing those plants from reopening in the US.

It provides an increase of more than $US14 million for the Bureau of Land Management to implement non-lethal management of wild horses and burros, featuring the fertility control vaccine PZP.

It also renews language preventing horses under the care of the BLM and the US Forest Service from being sent to slaughter for human consumption.

The wider bill also doubles the fiscal year 2020 funding level for the US Department of Agriculture to enforce the Horse Protection Act to $US2.09 million to better curb cruel “soring” of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds. It also calls for the agency’s inspector general to audit the Horse Protection Act (HPA) enforcement program.

Block and Amundson say the package makes it clear that the authority of USDA inspectors supersedes that of industry inspectors and urges the agency to reinstate the HPA rule that was finalized but shelved in January 2017. The rule would end the failed system of industry self-policing and use of devices integral to soring.

The law also provides no less than $US1.5 million in the National Veterans Sports Program for equine therapy to support veterans’ mental health and help reduce PTSD-related anxiety.

In terms of Animal Welfare Act enforcement, it directs the USDA to ensure that each non-compliance observed by an inspector under the act is documented on an inspection report, and restores AWA and HPA records purged from the agency’s website in 2017, that databases are at least as searchable — in function and content — as they were before the purge.

It also encourages the USDA to conduct robust enforcement to ensure that online dealers selling dogs have the necessary license under the Animal Welfare Act.

Block and Amundson said the provisions are a sign of genuine progress in the society’s work to push the frontiers of animal protection.

The pair say that the society, together with the Humane Society Legislative Fund, of which Amundson is president, remain committed to ending the cruel practice of horse soring, and will continue to push for tighter controls.

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