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 GillibrandStates battle each other for equipment in supply chain crunch The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Biden fights for attention in coronavirus news cycle MORE (D-N.Y.). and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGraham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill Trump considering suspending funding to WHO Campaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis MORE (R-Ariz.) and by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoBottom Line Trump administration expected to roll back Obama-era mileage standards As we face coronavirus battle, we must ensure critical supplies of respirators for health care workers MORE (D-N.Y.) and Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrMcGrath outraises McConnell in first quarter Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Democrats seek to preempt Trump message on health care | E-cigarette executives set for grilling | Dems urge emergency funding for coronavirus Democrats slam GOP on drug prices in bilingual digital ads MORE (R-Ky.). It currently has 196 co-sponsors in the House.

Animal Wellness Action got 2020 hopeful Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Democrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersGOP challenger outraises Michigan's Sen. Peters in first quarter The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Senate Democrats propose ,000 hazard-pay plan for essential workers 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 McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall 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.