Horse racing is plagued by drug use and a poor reputation, and casual fans are turning away.
The Horseracing Integrity Act could rescue a sport that seems unwilling to save itself.
Twenty-two horses died at the famed Santa Anita racetrack in southern California before its owners halted the current racing season to determine what had caused so many fatal injuries within just a 10-week period.
An alarmed California Horse Racing Board last week imposed strict new safety and medication rules before allowing racing to resume. The deaths are also bringing new attention to the Horseracing Integrity Act, federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, the Democrat from Amsterdam, and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican.
The bill proposes to put drug rule making, testing and enforcement in the hands of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the private, nonprofit government body that administers the Olympic anti-doping program. It would create a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in horse racing.
Notably, the legislation is backed by the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, which includes racing organizations, racetracks, owner and breeder associations, and animal-welfare groups.
They all understand that the changes could help restore faith in a sport with a less-than-stellar reputation — one that, over decades, has experienced a dramatic decline in popularity. It's not hyperbolic to suggest Mr. Tonko's bill might save a sport that seems unwilling to save itself.
Often, doing the right thing butts up against economic realities. This, thankfully, is a case in which what's right is also the smart financial choice.
Nevertheless, the horse racing industry has been slow to recognize that questions about the treatment of its equine athletes present a threat to its very survival. With so many other entertainment options available, casual fans, especially, will turn away if they believe stars of the show are being mistreated.
Meanwhile, as sports gambling continues to expand, bettors also have more options. They may choose to bet on other sports if they believe widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs is tainting the integrity of races.
While experts disagree over what caused so many deaths so quickly in Santa Anita, the link between the overuse of drugs and fatal equine injuries is clear.
In some cases, drugs push the animals past natural limits and endurance. They also falsely prop up thoroughbred bloodlines that would otherwise expire, over time producing horses that are ill-prepared for the rigors of the sport.
The overwhelming majority of trainers and owners want to do what's best for their horses, and many understand that a more holistic approach to the sport could generate stronger horses. They also want to compete on a level field.
But the current state-by-state patchwork of laws and regulations makes it more difficult to do both. The Horseracing Integrity Act would change that, for the benefit of the sport, and its stars.
Source: Times Union
Legislation would protect equine athletes with nationwide standards against horse doping.
Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus, reintroduced H.R. 1754: the Horseracing Integrity Act today to establish a uniform national medication program, bringing the United States in line with international standards.
“Horseracing thrives when we put the majestic equine athlete front and center” Tonko said. “Our legislation creates a set of nationwide rules that are clear, consistent, and conflict-free. This will make horseracing safer for our equine athletes and jockeys while increasing confidence in the sport among the trainers, owners, horseplayers, and horseracing fans alike. This sport of kings has long supported good jobs and delivers billions of dollars in economic impact every year in my home state of New York and throughout the country. I am grateful to Congressman Barr for partnering with me on this common-sense legislation and look forward to advancing our measure through the House.”
“As the Representative for the Horse Capital of the World, I have the distinct honor of fighting for the future of this great American sport,” said Congressman Barr. “I continue to believe the prosperity of Kentucky’s signature horseracing industry depends on national uniform medication standards and testing procedures. I am proud to reintroduce this legislation with my friend and colleague, Congressman Tonko, and I look forward to building upon the great bipartisan work we secured last Congress, including more than 100 cosponsors, to ensure the safety and integrity of this sport is preserved for years to come.”
Under existing law, 38 state racing commissions make up the U.S. horseracing industry, producing an inconsistent patchwork of rules governing the sport, including medication policies and practices. Setting common-sense national standards consistent with horseracing worldwide would enable greater interstate collaboration and commerce and allow public confidence in the sport to flourish.
The Horseracing Integrity Act
With wins in this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, American Pharoah has one more race to win to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Fans will pay close attention to Saturday's Belmont Stakes because they love a winner, but also because they love horses -- their beauty, athleticism and storied place in American culture.
But of the 25,000 thoroughbreds bred each year, very few will compete in the Triple Crown races so familiar to us. And tens of thousands of other horses of other breeds will never gain a spot in the limelight, and certainly not in the winner's circle of a major race.
Too often, these horses do not make the cut with their owners, or they are redirected from a legitimate enterprise -- racing, work or pleasure riding -- and sent into the horse slaughter trade.
Data from the U.S. and Canadian governments indicate that more than 100,000 American horses a year are exported and slaughtered in Canada or Mexico for human consumption, often after a long, typically harrowing journey that starts in an auction barn in a rural part of the United States.
It's an inhumane process from start to finish, and far from a dignified or appropriate end for a creature that did nothing wrong and which deserved much better than to be turned into a slab of meat for a foreign consumer.
The predatory horse slaughter industry doesn't euthanize old, sick horses. Precisely the opposite: Kill buyers, typically misrepresenting their intentions, purchase young and healthy horses and haul them away. At auctions, kill buyers often bid against legitimate horse owners and horse rescuers. Based on observations by our organization, most horses going to slaughter are in good condition and able to live healthy and productive lives.
Horses are transported long distances in overcrowded trailers and are badly injured or even killed during transit, according to documents obtained from the Department of Agriculture. Inside the bloody, panic-stricken environment of a slaughterhouse, their suffering only intensifies as horses endure repeated attempts to render them unconscious. When horse slaughter plants operated on U.S. soil before being rightfully shut down in 2007, it proved to be no better: The USDA documented horrific cruelty, including broken bones and eyeballs hanging from eye sockets by a thread of skin.
Although horse slaughter is so ruthless and inhumane, proponents of this grisly practice try to convince the public that slaughter is somehow "good" for horses that otherwise would be neglected. But it's actually the kill buyers who routinely abandon horses, especially at the border when they are rejected for slaughter. They are also responsible for a laundry list of cases of severe neglect.
Beyond being a predatory enterprise, the horse slaughter industry also endangers human health by peddling tainted meat. Horses in the United States are not raised with the intention of turning them into food, so they therefore may be treated with any of hundreds of drugs over the course of their lives, both illegal and legal, that may be toxic to humans if ingested. One example is phenylbutazone, or "bute." It is as common to horses as aspirin is to humans, and is banned by the FDA for use in any animal intended for human consumption.
Then consider the makeshift pharmacy of drugs used in race horses -- from cobra venom to cocaine, according to a 2012 New York Times investigation. Because of these serious food safety concerns, the European Union, among the largest consumer of the meat of American horses, recently suspended horse meat imports from Mexico, where 87 percent of horses slaughtered for export to the EU were of U.S. origin. EU authorities made the decision after a series of scathing audits that exposed a cluster of problems, including a lack of traceability of American horses and horrific suffering on U.S. soil and in Mexico.
Most Americans disapprove of slaughtering horses for food. A national survey of 1,008 people in 2012 found that 80 percent opposed slaughtering of horses for human consumption.
To end the slaughter of American horses and protect the food supply, legislators in Congress introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports Act. It not only would prevent this clandestine, greed-driven industry from operating in America, but would outlaw the export of horses across our borders for slaughter.
So while we turn our attention to the next race, let us remember that every horse, whether a Kentucky Derby winner or a pleasure horse, deserves our protection and lifetime care.