The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R.1754/S.4547) comes after the racing industry has been hit by a series of doping scandals and a rash of fatal breakdowns in recent years.
The Energy and Commerce committee in the U.S. House on gave bipartisan approval to legislation to create national standards for the horse racing industry to prevent fatalities and discourage illegal medication practices. The Senate's top Republican said he would press to pass the bill before the year is out. The 46-5 vote in a Democratic-controlled panel is a good sign for the bill's prospects.
“Our bill delivers commonsense medication and track safety standards that protect America’s horses and jockeys, needed progress that will put this popular and historic sport on track for a strong recovery and a bright future," said top sponsor Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., whose district is home to Saratoga Race Course, a premier racetrack.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose state is home to the country's top breeding outfits and the Kentucky Derby, introduced identical legislation with senior Democrats from California and New York, which also have top racetracks and breeding operations.
The “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act" comes after the racing industry has been hit by a series of doping scandals and a rash of fatal breakdowns in recent years. It is also struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, with tracks like Churchill Downs holding races — including last weekend's Kentucky Derby, delayed from May — without spectators.
Several top trainers were charged earlier this year with illegally doping their horses with performance-enhancing drugs, including Jason Servis, whose horse Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Derby but was disqualified for racing interference.
The legislation is aimed at empowering an independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority with federal recognition and enforcement power to set uniform standards for medication, track safety, and testing of horses for PEDs.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus isn’t thoroughbred racing’s only challenge. In recent years, tragedies on the track, medication scandals and an inconsistent patchwork of regulations have cast clouds over the future,” McConnell said in a floor speech.
While blue-blood racing organizations such as the Jockey Club and key racing circuits support the idea, McConnell has not attracted cosponsors from states like Florida, Louisiana and New Jersey, where some of the sport's scandals have occurred and where oversight is considered uneven at best. But Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce panel, is a strong supporter.
McConnell said in a brief hallway interview that the industry has long been plagued by disunity and that after reading a Washington Post editorial questioning whether racing should remain legal he told stakeholders “in the strongest possible way that they needed to get together or I would try to do it for them. And they did get together.” McConnell said he hopes to win passage of the legislation before the end of the congressional session and plans to discuss the topic with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Also at issue is a series of horse fatalities in California in recent years, which has garnered the industry bad press. The legislation faces challenges in the Senate, given the time crunch and potential opposition. But McConnell said he would press the issue in a post-election lame duck session.
Jockeys competing in California won’t be allowed to strike a horse more than six times during a race, and then only in an underhanded position, according to a new rule approved by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
Representatives from the Jockeys’ Guild, plus California riders Mike Smith and Aaron Gryder, repeatedly advocated for the board to wait at least one more month before voting on the rule to allow more time for a proposed national whip standards rule to come to fruition.
But in a contentious meeting that stretched nearly seven hours, CHRB chairman Gregory Ferraro, DVM, spearheaded the push to once and for all settle the whip rule based on the rationale that he believes no such national standard is actually forthcoming, and that California should be a leader and not a follower when it comes to reforming how racehorses are treated.
“I don’t believe you’re going to see a national rule,” Ferraro said. “I would like a national rule, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s definitely not going to happen with any speed at all. It could be years. This board has a mandate from the governor to make reforms in racing that contribute to the welfare of the horse. We’ve been talking about this crop rule for two years. I think it’s time to stop procrastinating and pass a rule. We have a good rule. We worked hard on it.
“The rule is not based on what’s best for the situation. It’s based on perception,” Gusman said. “You’re going to end racing in California. It’s just going to happen if you go down this road of trying to regulate perception rather than reality.”
In addition to the above-mentioned restrictions, the newly amended version of CHRB Rule 1688 will also prohibit the use of the riding crop during morning training and after the finish of races. According to the CHRB meeting information packet, the correct uses of the riding crop will now include “showing or waving the crop without touching the horse…and tapping the horse on the shoulder with the crop in the down position.”
The new rule will also establish “a maximum fine of $1,000 and minimum suspension of three days for riding in a manner contrary to the rule.” There will be no penalty if the stewards determine that the use of the riding crop was “necessary for the safety of the horse or rider.”
Terence Meyocks, the president and chief executive officer of the Jockeys’ Guild, noted that work is progressing in other jurisdictions, particularly among a coalition of mid-Atlantic region tracks, to come up with a standardized version of whipping rules that have been crafted with the input of riders in mind. He explained that he would like to see California on board with any proposed rule that might result from those multi-party discussions in the next few weeks.
“The Jockeys’ Guild and riders today need a national rule,” Meyocks said. “I think we’re so much closer to a national rule in the United States, and I think that this is our best chance. It’s the Guild’s request at this time to ask for an extension of no more than four to six weeks to see if we can reach an agreement on the riding crop in the United States.”
But Scott Chaney, the CHRB’s new executive director, told commissioners before the vote that he didn’t buy that line of reasoning. “This idea about a national standard is not a ‘thing.’ It just doesn’t exist,” Chaney said. “I guess maybe we’re talking about some agreement between the Jockeys’ Guild and the safety coalition. But that’s not a national standard. That’s just an idea that a sub-group of the country has. It would require every other state to pass a rule, which just is not going to happen.”
Now that the new whipping rules have been passed, the CHRB must submit the proper paperwork to the state Office of Administrative Law, which will review the technical details, possibly in time for an effective date of Oct. 1.
During the past four years, The Jockey Club and Meadowlands Racetrack have retained the services of a leading international investigative company, and that association might have paid a dividend in the recent federal indictments of Thoroughbred trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro as well as several harness racing trainers in a doping scheme.
Through the recommendation of officials from the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency, The Jockey Club turned to 5 Stones intelligence in 2016 to provide confidential investigative services.
"It is vitally important to the sport that it is regulated competently and by authorities that are independent," said James Gagliano, the president and chief operating officer for The Jockey Club. "That is a hallmark of the Horseracing Integrity Act, and it has never been more important to the sport, given the events of this week."
Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural, who operates a harness racing meet at the New Jersey racetrack, said he also employed 5 Stones and that information from 5 Stones played a role in the federal indictments of 29 people that were announced March 9-11 by the United States District Attorney, Southern District of New York.
"We participated with The Jockey Club in retaining (5 Stones) to help lead the FBI in the right direction," Gural said.
Gural echoed the call for passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act, saying racetracks have been turning a blind eye to cheaters for far too long. "All the racetrack owners in the country who said they cared about this didn't care. They had to know the only way to catch these guys was through undercover and surveillance companies. Without them, you were just giving lip service that you cared," Gural said. "There's no gray area when it comes to honesty. Everyone knew the system was broken, but no one cared about it. There's no way we can tell people in politics that we care if we don't let the USADA take over. The funny thing is that when I would talk to people who oppose the government taking over, the next thing I would ask is if the current system is working, and 100% would say no. I don't understand that. They knew the system wasn't working, and they were happy with it.
Servis, who trains recent Saudi Cup winner Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first to 17th in last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), and Navarro, the seven-time leading trainer at Monmouth Park, are scheduled to be arraigned March 23 on charges of a misbranding conspiracy.
BloodHorse reported March 14 that Servis and Navarro could appear before the New York federal court for arraignment and initial conference either in person or by telephone conference in a concession to travel difficulties because of COVID-19.
The indictment charged that Servis had performance-enhancing drugs administered to "virtually all of the racehorses under his care" and that Navarro orchestrated "a widespread scheme of covertly obtaining and administering various adulterated and misbranded PEDs to horses under his control."
Navarro is facing two counts of the misbranding charge, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Servis was charged with one count and could be imprisoned for up to five years if found guilty.
Among the harness trainers indicted are Rene Allard, who was third in North American earnings last year, Richard Banca, Nick Surick, Chris Oakes, Chris Marino, Rick Dane Jr., and assistant trainer Conor Flynn.
Allard, Banca, Oakes and Marino were barred by Gural from racing at Meadowlands prior to the indictments. Banca and Allard are the runaway leaders at the current Yonkers Raceway meet, combining for 367 wins in 2020 before racing was suspended due to COVID-19 after the March 9 card.
Gural believes there will be more indictments in the weeks and months to come.
"People will (provide information to authorities)," Gural said. "Anyone who used these people who were indicted cannot be sleeping well."
Source: Blood Horse
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