The Bill gives racing hope and a future.
By: Marty Irby
In 1919, Sir Barton became the first horse to claim the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing in America. Back in those days, winning three marquee races back to back really meant something to the American people. It gave people hope after the trauma of World War I. It gave kids something to dream about.
A year later, the National Football League was founded. “Pudge” Heffelfinger got a $500 contract to play in a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, and from that humble start, professional football was on a trajectory for mass appeal in the nation.
For decades, both horse racing and football flourished. While tens of millions of Americans enjoy football today, very few have the same enthusiasm for horse racing. Many view horse racing as an inhumane sport. American race tracks are turning into crash sites, with hundreds of horses put down after suffering catastrophic injuries in competition. We don’t see football players dying on the field, and we shouldn’t have to see horses dying on the track at alarming rates.
Unlike the NFL, which has one set of rules at every stadium, and every game for all 32 teams nationwide, horse racing operates under an outdated, state-based, patchwork of medication rules. This creates confusion and risk for owners and trainers as it contains gaps in rules and enforcement. These gaps continue to contribute to the multitude of deaths, and while many professional sports have taken crucial steps to rid their games of doping, the racing industry continues to lag-behind.
A fix is in the hands of Congress and the industry chieftains who influence it. The Horse Racing Integrity Act, has been introduced by U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Andy Barr (R-KY) in the House, and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) in the Senate. This Act would greatly improve regulatory standards, ban the use of medication on race day, and level the playing field for everyone invested in horse racing – our horses, jockeys, trainers, owners and fans alike.
The bill is backed by a broad base of industry players, including members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, which range from The Jockey Club, The Stronach Group, The Belmont, The Breeders’ Cup, Water, Hay, Oats Alliance, the U.S. Harness Racing Alumni Association, racetracks and animal protection groups.
The bill seeks to protect American race horses through the establishment of a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in horse racing. It would also grant drug rule making, testing, and enforcement oversight to a private, non-profit, self-regulatory independent organization managed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). This is the governing body that manages the Olympic anti-doping program.
In the years since Sir Barton claimed the Triple Crown there have been only twelve others that have achieved that honor. They include legends like War Admiral and Secretariat – some doped and some not. The 2018 winner Justify was one that ran on drugs, and he’s been plagued by bad press since the facts came to light. Justify failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby in 2018 – a qualifier that preceded the sweep of The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.
Unfortunately, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) disposed of the review behind closed doors, while its Chairman maintained a horse with Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert. Just one more reason for Congress to pass the Horse Racing Integrity Act – modern American horse racing spells everything but integrity.
Last month, I was fortunate to join a panel of witnesses testifying in Congress in support of the bill, and the momentum continues to build. But if Congress fails to act on the Horse Racing Integrity Act, then the public debate will soon shift away from eliminating doping in horse racing to eliminating horse racing itself. The outliers in horse racing should get behind the Horse Racing Integrity Act and support the reform before it’s too late.
Marty Irby is a lifelong horseman, executive director at Animal Wellness Action and president of the American Horse Protection Society in Washington, D.C.