AFTER CALIFORNIA HORSE RACING BOARD REPORT ON SANTA ANITA, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JUDY CHU CALLS FOR STRONGER PROTECTIONS FOR HORSES
On Monday, the California Horse Racing Board released their annual report on horse racing in California for the 2019 calendar year. The report showed that nearly 90% of fatalities in 2019 were associated with pre-existing, undetected stress fractures. It also found that the dirt track at Santa Anita was responsible for four times as many fatalities as the turf track, despite holding only 30% more races. Among the report’s recommendations for curbing horse deaths are better veterinary record keeping, stricter regulations on the use of all medications, use of diagnostic imaging before a race, and a prohibition on racing on tracks deemed to be unsafe due to weather conditions, like the dirt track at Santa Anita. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), who represents Santa Anita, issued the following statement:
Finally, we cannot rely on a patchwork of regulations to solve this problem. Regulations recommended by the CHRB could save lives for horses outside of California as well, but because we lack a federal body to oversee horse racing, each state is free to set their own standards, contributing to America’s higher rate of horse deaths compared to other countries. That is why I was encouraged by last week’s hearing for H.R. 1754, the Horseracing Integrity Act in the Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation, which would establish a federal Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority to standardize safety and medication standards across the United States, is needed more than ever.”
Bill creating new horse-racing authority amid track deaths draws opposition from Kentucky Derby owner, Churchill Downs
The bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R.1754), which will eradicate horse doping, has the majority of U.S. Representatives supporting it, but Monmouth Park and Churchill Downs object to the bill.
A Hall of Fame jockey and animal-welfare advocates were among those pushing this week for a bill that would establish a new authority overseeing U.S. horse racing, but the bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act also is drawing flak from Kentucky Derby owner Churchill Downs Inc. and other industry players.
“Right now, there are almost no controls on what therapeutics horses are given while in training,” retired jockey Chris McCarron said at a House subcommittee’s hearing.
“The status quo — with 38 different states governing one industry with 38 different sets of rules and penalties and numerous different laboratories doing the testing using different standards — is just not working,” added McCarron, who rode the winner at two Kentucky Derbies, as he backed the legislation.
The bill aims to create a new anti-doping authority, and it has found support amid a rash of horse deaths at racetracks last year. For example, 38 horses died in 2019 at Southern California’s Santa Anita Park, which has instituted drug-use reforms. The legislation looks likely to pass in the House, given that more than half of the Democratic-led chamber’s members have signed on as co-sponsors of it.
But top officials from New Jersey’s Monmouth Park Racetrack and the Association of Racing Commissioners International spoke out against the Horseracing Integrity Act at Tuesday’s hearing, and Churchill Downs Inc. also voiced its concerns with the bill.
“I’m opposed to federal legislation. I don’t think federal legislation should be in our business,” said Dennis Drazin, Monmouth Park’s chairman and CEO, speaking to members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee.
“And although I’ve been opposed to federal legislation, I want to be part of the solution — not part of the problem — in preventing this. I’ve worked hard with my colleagues on the NTRA special committee to come up with comprehensive solutions for you,” Drazin added, referring to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
The bill “duplicates a framework that’s already in existence,” said Edward Martin, ACRI’s president and CEO, during the Capitol Hill hearing. “The goal of trying to get to uniformity is a very good goal. We believe there’s substantial uniformity, but not total uniformity, with regard to the testing in the labs. The labs are accredited, and we think you can achieve uniformity by adopting the ARCI model rules.”
“We will continue to implement meaningful procedures at Churchill Downs that address the safety and welfare of our equine and human athletes, and this commitment extends to working with industry leaders and regulators,” the company added.
The Horseracing Integrity Act was the top focus of Churchill Downs Inc.’s Washington lobbying efforts last year, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of disclosures. The bill was reintroduced in the House a year ago by Republican Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky and Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York. They’ve been rolling out versions of the legislation since 2015.
Barr told the subcommittee on Tuesday that his bill will “advance the safety, the integrity and the international competitiveness of the sport.”
“This idea that federal legislation is the wrong way to go — if you go back to The Jockey Club minutes from the 1970s and the 1980s, when they were discussing medication reform, they were saying back then that we don’t need federal legislation. The efforts to reform the industry by the industry itself — the efforts through interstate compacts — have failed,” the GOP congressman said.
The Jockey Club, an organization that maintains the breed registry for thoroughbreds, is part of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, a group that supports Barr and Tonko’s bill. The measure has an “excellent” chance of becoming law, said The Jockey Club’s president and chief operating officer, Jim Gagliano. It’s expected to pass the House with “strong support,” and there is “also strong support in the Senate with 24 senators co-sponsoring the bill,” he said.
“This bill does not create new federal bureaucracy but rather an independent and private authority to manage racehorse medications, which should be a positive with the Trump administration,” Gagliano added.
Source: Market Watch
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.