A bipartisan approach to protecting racehorses

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For centuries, we have respected and admired professional athletes for their agility, speed and endurance. We rightly view athletic competitions as tests of players’ natural abilities—talents that have been refined through years of training, experience and intelligence. The same would be true for the animal athletes of horse racing, in a different era. However, according to a 2015 poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, 90 percent of bettors and 44 percent of the broader public associate horse racing with performance-enhancing drugs.

This means that the horse racing industry lags behind numerous esteemed professional sports programs that have all taken the steps needed to rid their competitions of illegal drugs and other forms of cheating.

{mosads}Part of the problem for horse racing, unlike, say, the National Football League, is that no unifying regulatory system exists. Imagine if all 32 professional football teams had different sets of rules in each stadium. That is exactly the situation in each of the 38 state racing jurisdictions throughout the United States. Each one offers a unique set of regulations, allowing corrupt owners and trainers to move racehorses from one jurisdiction to another to avoid penalties or to enjoy more lenient oversight. State racing commissions allow various medications and differing levels of permissible medications. They also impose varying penalties for violations and use numerous, incongruous laboratories to test for the presence of drugs. 

Uniform oversight and regulation of the industry are needed to stop unethical trainers and veterinarians from doping horses to improve their chances of winning. The Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 2651, can achieve this goal. This bipartisan legislation, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), will establish a uniform set of rules, testing procedures and penalties.

H.R. 2651 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 program for horse racing.

The authority would be governed by a board composed of the chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which is the agency that monitors Olympic sports in the United States. It would also include six individuals from the USADA board, and six individuals selected by USADA who have demonstrated expertise in a variety of horse-racing areas. This new agency would be funded by the industry with no taxpayer funds or taxes on bettors. 

According to the 2015 poll, 96 percent of horse racing fans and 83 percent of the public support USADA-led oversight of Thoroughbred racing.

This legislation is crucial to protect the animals and jockeys of an industry that history has shown will not regulate itself.

Overwhelming support for this measure exists among animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund. Backing for the reform is also growing throughout the racing industry where industry insiders are uniting in support of the bill’s passage.

Supporters include the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park and Saratoga Racetrack; Frank Stronach, founder of The Stronach Group, which owns several tracks including Pimlico Race Course, where the Preakness Stakes was just won by the Kentucky Derby winner, Justify; The Jockey Club; The Breeders’ Cup; Keeneland; and the Water Hay Oats Alliance, which includes 65 racehorse trainers.

As we approach the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown in Thoroughbred racing, with Justify seeking to become the second horse to win the title in 40 years, let’s ask our members of Congress to step up and keep this sport alive by passing the Horseracing Integrity Act. The stakes are highest not for the owners, the trainers, the spectators, or the economy, but for the athletes themselves. We should see that, understand our obligations, and act upon them.

Marty Irby is the Senior Adviser at The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund in Washington, D.C.

Tags Andy Barr Kentucky Derby Paul Tonko

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