Today, September 29, 2020, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R.1754) was unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Led by Congressman Andy Barr (D-KY) and Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), this landmark legislation will create an independent regulatory authority responsible for establishing uniform safety and competition standards for horse racing. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY) and McSally (R-AZ), are leading the effort for its passage.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, H.R.1754/S.4547, will recognize the newly formed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), which will be tasked with creating uniform, national standards regarding prohibited and permitted substances for use in horses, setting up an accreditation system for labs to test drug samples, and developing regional standards regarding racetrack safety.
“With today’s HISA passage in the House, we continue our momentum and move one step closer toward historic reform for the horse racing industry,” said Congressman Barr. “This legislation, developed through a highly deliberative and bipartisan process, will ensure the safety of our equine athletes and increase the popularity, public confidence, and international competitiveness of the sport."
“After nearly six years working to advance this bipartisan legislation to modernize horseracing in the United States, we are at long last rounding the final turn,” Congressman Tonko said. “Our Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act puts the health and well-being of our equine athletes and jockeys firmly at the center of the sport, and delivers commonsense medication and track safety standards that will lift this noble sport to higher standards of integrity and safety."
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.
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
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