The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 1754), introduced last year by Congressional Horse Caucus co-chairs Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), has officially received formal endorsement by a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, with 226 Members now cosponsoring the legislation. This bipartisan bill authorizes creation of a non-governmental anti-doping authority governed by representatives of all major constituencies of the industry and responsible for implementing a national, uniform medication program throughout the sport.
“After years working side by side with my friend Congressman Andy Barr to move this legislation forward, I am deeply gratified that our bill to strengthen America’s horseracing industry and elevate the health and safety of our equine athletes is finally getting its due support,” Tonko remarked. “Establishing a single, national approach to medication testing with strong independent oversight and enforcement will help ensure the long-term viability of this sport of kings. The stakes for this legislation are high, especially in regions like ours with historic ties to an industry that contributes billions of dollars and supports thousands of jobs in the New York economy each year, much of it at and around our legendary Saratoga Race Course.”
“The bipartisan support we have garnered for this legislation demonstrates the urgency of needed reforms in the horseracing industry,” said Congressman Barr. “At the end of the day, my efforts are about ensuring the safety of our equine athletes and the integrity of the sport. I will continue to educate my colleagues on the need for transparency and standardization in horse racing and build on this momentum to fight for Kentucky’s signature industry.”
The U.S. horseracing industry exists today under a diverse patchwork of conflicting and inconsistent rules governing medication policies and practices across 38 different racing jurisdictions. Lack of uniformity in the rules of horseracing has impaired interstate commerce and undermined the public confidence in the sport. The Horseracing Integrity Act responds by setting a level playing field for fair competition within and across state lines, assuring full and fair disclosure of information to purchasers of breeding stock and to the wagering public, and providing for the safety and welfare of horses and jockeys, reforms expected to raise the popularity, credibility and international competitiveness of the U.S. horse racing industry.
Tonko and Barr have introduced a version of this legislation since 2015. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate and currently has 23 cosponsors.
Growing concern over the number of horses dying on race tracks – an average of 10 a week – is forcing the racing industry to reassess how it conducts its business. Some are calling for more regulation, while others want an outright ban, CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reports.
No one knows the thrill, and the risks, of the sport more than Hall Of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. He won 5,000 races, including the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes three times each. He even had a role in the movie "Seabiscuit."
But Stevens is now worried the sport he loves is in existential danger.
After the most recent death of a horse at Santa Anita during the Breeders' Cup Classic despite an unprecedented number of reforms implemented at that track the past few months, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued an ominous warning: "If the horse racing industry is unwilling to treat these magnificent creatures humanely, it has no business operating in the United States."
Stevens said: "I'm scared for racing here in California. I really am." "The misconception is that we're not caring for these horses, and that we as a group don't care. We care," he said.
There have always been fatalities in horse racing. When the half-ton athletes are racing at full speed — about 40 miles an hour — only one foot at a time hits the ground, which is an enormous amount of violent pressure on relatively narrow leg bones. When a broken bone occurs, thoroughbreds are simply physiologically incapable of staying alive while the bone heals.
But horse race deaths in the United States are two to three times higher than in Europe, where there are tighter controls on race-day medications and where training and the tracks themselves are different.
Hancock also believes American horses are entirely over-medicated, and many drugs mask underlying issues, putting perhaps slightly injured horses on the path to a fatal injury.
In most states, both Lasix, an anti-bleeding drug, and the anti-inflammatory Phenylbutazone, known as bute, are allowed on race day. A European study released this month statistically connected bute to on-track breakdowns.
"I contend that if a horse needs drugs to run he doesn't need to be running. He needs to run on his natural ability, not some chemically induced ability," Hancock said.
A bill now before Congress would eliminate all race-day medications and give enforcement authority to the doping agency that oversees the Olympics. It would also establish an independent central authority charged with improving horse and rider safety.
Stevens said he would "absolutely" support that type of authority. "Are you optimistic now that change will happen?" Dahler asked. "It's gotta happen, or they're done here. Period. And if they're done here, it's going to be a tidal wave across the United States," Stevens said.
Just this month, a group of owners, tracks and organizations that represent 85% of American horse racing announced their own initiative to establish a thoroughbred safety coalition. But Hancock is skeptical that the industry is capable of policing itself.
Source: CBS News
Anyone with a passing interest in Thoroughbred racing or animal welfare is very familiar with the breakdown of horses at Santa Anita Park during their winter/spring meeting.
This meet opened on December 26 and finished on June 23. There were a total of 30 breakdowns, including races and workouts. On March 14, Belinda Stronach, President and Chairman of the Stronach Group, presented an open letter on the future of Thoroughbred racing in California. Some of the important safety initiatives included:
There were two additional important proposed initiatives that are significant but do not relate directly to breakdowns. One is a restriction on the use of Lasix. Starting in 2020, no 2-year-old will be able to run on Lasix, and, in 2021, all Santa Anita stakes races will be Lasix-free. Secondly, the Stronach Group is proposing both structural changes in the composition of the whip and a dramatic reduction in how it can be used by the jockey. These two initiatives will have to go through the rule-making process, including consultation with horsemen, before they can be voted on by the California Horseracing Board.
Hollendorfer facts are hard to digest
On June 22, a horse of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer broke down on the Santa Anita training track and had to be euthanized. Unfortunately, this was the fourth Hollendorfer horse to break down, racing or training, during the meet, and he also had two breakdowns during the Golden Gate meet, which ended on June 2 and will re-open on August 15.
Later on June 22, Hollendorfer was told by the Stronach Group he would no longer be allowed to race or train at Santa Anita and that the four horses that he had entered on the final two days of Santa Anita were scratched.
The further facts are hard for me to digest, so I imagine how Hollendorfer must feel. He was elected to the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, lifetime he has won 7,617 races from a total of 33,519 entered, and until June 22 he had over 100 horses in training in California. Other than being ruled off by the Stronach Group, he does not appear to have heard any further details of why he was suspended.
Most racing jurisdictions have one organization for owners and trainers. However, in California the owners are represented by the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the trainers by their own organization, the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT). It is truly remarkable that, as of right now, the CTT has not come forward with a strong statement of support for Hollendorfer, who remains a licensee in good standing with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
An industry that has lost its soul
In sum, the industry is not full of change agents seeking new challenges and changing the business. However, as I tried to outline above, we are desperate to change in many areas. We need to identify and eliminate the cheaters in the game. We also need to protect the interests of our owners, breeders and employees to assure them that we run an honest business that works in the interests of all participants.
If we try to stand still with existing policies and business practices, we are only going to go backwards. I wrote what I thought was a very important article back on April 2. It was primarily stimulated by the most powerful case for reform in U.S. Thoroughbred racing and breeding that I have ever read: Vision 2025. If you are invested or interested in the U.S. Thoroughbred industry, you have to read this nine-page report.
I truly believe we are an industry that has lost its soul and its determination. We so desperately need the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019 and the important changes in the business model that the legislation requires. As I have tried to outline above, our current collection of industry organizations and regulatory bodies are simply going to bring the industry down. Please, no more ‘go along to get along’.
Source: Charles Hayward for TRC