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 GillibrandSenate panel clears controversial Trump court pick Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Harris proposes keeping schools open for 10 hours a day MORE (D-N.Y.). and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths MORE (R-Ariz.) and by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoAdvocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' from major defense policy bill Unlikely allies push horse racing reform MORE (D-N.Y.) and Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrKentucky Democrat moves closer to McConnell challenge Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Unlikely allies push horse racing reform MORE (R-Ky.). It currently has 196 co-sponsors in the House.

Animal Wellness Action got 2020 hopeful Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Poll: Biden support hits record low of 26 percent MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersAdvocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS 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 McConnellMcConnell protege emerges as Kentucky's next rising star Hillicon Valley: Schumer questions Army over use of TikTok | Federal court rules against random searches of travelers' phones | Groups push for election security funds in stopgap bill | Facebook's new payment feature | Disney+ launch hit by glitches McConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing 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.