Hailing from two of the most important Thoroughbred breeding districts in the country, U.S. Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoThe Biden administration's first year: Slow and steady does not win this race Hillicon Valley — Inside the Twitter shakeup Lawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays MORE (D-N.Y.) and Andy BarrAndy BarrOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan GOP Rep. Andy Barr reports M in cash ahead of 2022 election MORE (R-Ky.) are again making a push to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act, which, when enacted, would take a tangible stride toward protecting American racehorses through the establishment of a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in horse racing. It would also grant drug rulemaking, testing, and enforcement oversight to a private, non-profit, self-regulatory independent organization overseen by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – the governing body that administers the Olympic anti-doping program.
This landmark legislation is supported by a broad base of industry players, including members of the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity, which range from The Jockey Club, The Preakness, The Belmont, The Breeders’ Cup, racetracks and animal protection agencies. Today horse racing operates under an outdated, state-based, balkanized patchwork of medication rules that creates confusion and risk for owners and trainers and contains gaps in rules and enforcement. The Horseracing Integrity Act would greatly improve regulatory standards, ban the use of all medications on race day, and level the playing field for everyone invested in horse racing — our horses, jockeys, trainers, owners and fans alike.
While many professional sports have taken crucial steps to rid their games of illegal doping, the racing industry continues to lag behind — not because of a lack of leadership, but because too many players are simply satisfied with the status quo, which has led to a multitude of equine deaths each year.
Horse racing is a big American sport, employing 400,000 in this country, and surveys have shown that medication regulation is a top priority for the industry. In 2015, a survey by Penn Schoen Berland showed that 90 percent of U.S. adults and 98 percent of sports bettors supported uniform medication rules across all racing states. Another survey that year found 83 percent of members of the Horseplayers Association of North America believe they should lend support to the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity in its quest to reform drug use and enforcement in horse racing.
This isn’t the first time Congress has taken a look into horse racing. In fact, in 2008, after Eight Belles was euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs following her second-place finish in The Kentucky Derby, a House committee convened a series of hearings, wherein the industry promised to unite and modernize its regulations. Today, very few states are compliant with the minimum standards the industry has set for itself. And with the upcoming Triple Crown season only two months away, when millions of casual sports fans will follow horseracing, the need for improved standards is greater than ever.
The inability of the industry to act to better protect its equine and human athletes, as well as the interests of fans, underscores the need for the Horseracing Integrity Act to pass during the 116th Congress and be signed into law by President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE — reported to be a former owner of Thoroughbred racehorses himself. If Congress passes the Act, they will give President Trump an opportunity to help protect animals and add value, jobs, and bring prosperity to U.S. horse racing once again – surely that would fit within the campaign to help Make America Great Again. The president may not want a dog in the White House, but he’s shown himself to have an interest in horses.
Last fall, I happened to be at Keeneland racetrack in Lexington, Ky. with horse industry professionals on the afternoon President Trump flew in to campaign for Rep. Barr, who was in a horse race for his congressional seat. The crowds and traffic were unbelievable that day and the good people of Barr’s home district proved faithful to the congressman, just as they’ve been faithful to the world of horse racing for nearly two centuries. Lexington is widely known as the Horse Capitol of the World, and one of the U.S. House District’s most affected by the Horseracing Integrity Act, along with Saratoga Springs — a beautiful enclave in upstate New York that Rep. Tonko represents in the president’s home state.
I’m placing my bet that the president will easily understand the economics of this issue combined with our society’s ever-growing desire to protect animals, and Congress should move the legislation swiftly to give the president the opportunity to ink the bill into law.
Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., an 8-time world champion equestrian rider, and past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.