Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths

Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths
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An advocacy group to prevent cruelty to animals is headed to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to protect racehorses.

Animal Wellness Action is pressing Congress on the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would establish a national standard for medication use on racehorses and create a committee, managed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, to enforce it and test the horses. It would be the same model the Olympics have for athletes and the first of its kind for nonhumans. 

The new push comes after the death of a horse, Mongolian Groom, at the Breeders’ Cup in California on Saturday. The horse, which injured his leg and was euthanized, was the seventh to die on that track since September.

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“It’s definitely something that is much more on the radar today than it was a week ago. I think everybody has expressed that,” Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby told The Hill after his meetings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

“People were far more focused on the recent incident and what they’ve seen from the public and the outcry.” 

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Lobbying world Democrats optimistic as social spending bill heads to Senate MORE (D-N.Y.). and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyBusiness groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter Ruben Gallego is left's favorite to take on Sinema MORE (R-Ariz.) and by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoDemocrats fear Virginia is precursor to House drubbing Using shared principles to guide our global and national energy policy WHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Andy BarrAndy BarrThe IMF has lost its way Republicans press Biden administration to maintain sanctions against Taliban World Bank suspends aid to Afghanistan after Taliban takeover MORE (R-Ky.). It currently has 196 co-sponsors in the House.

Animal Wellness Action got 2020 hopeful Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerPoll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Senators look to defense bill to move cybersecurity measures Midterm gloom grows for Democrats MORE (D-Mich.) to sign on as well, bringing it to six co-sponsors in the Senate.

“Good to have a current presidential candidate. Hopefully the rest of the candidates will fall in line and come on and co-sponsor,” Irby said.

Irby's group is part of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, which will return to Capitol Hill next week to lobby the House when it returns from recess.

“A dozen or more I think will come on board pretty quickly,” Irby said. “I think we’ll get to 218 pretty quickly, maybe by the end of next week.” 

Irby predicted there will be a hearing in the House early next year, but the bill faces an uphill battle this Congress in the Senate.

The Breeders’ Cup, The Jockey Club and The Stronach Group are supporting the bill through the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity. But Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, is not in the coalition.

That's a significant obstacle for supporters of the bill. Churchill Downs is in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (R-Ky.), who is essential to getting the bill through the upper chamber. McConnell has not taken a position on the bill.

Irby said a couple of members brought up the McConnell hurdle, adding it was “not near as many” as he expected. 

“We’ll still keep pressing along in both chambers,” Irby said.