Troubled US horse racing is to be brought in line with international integrity and welfare standards after a bill was passed to introduce an independent anti-doping agency.
Congress approved the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act on Monday, 21 December, as part of an effort to reduce the number of fatalities on US tracks.
The issue was brought to global attention last year when more than 23 horses died in less than three months at Santa Anita racecourse in California. In recent years, on-track deaths have averaged 10 a week across the country.
Investigations into the high fatality rate have suggested the use of race-day medications, which can mask existing injuries, may be behind a number of catastrophic breakdowns.
Until now, the US has not had a unified approach to doping legislation, with racing coming under the control of 38 different jurisdictions. Its attitude towards the use of common anti-inflammatories and painkillers has been lax compared to international standards.
The new act would create an independent anti-doping authority that would set uniform national standards, testing procedures and penalties for thoroughbred racing, while the existing not-for-profit US Anti-Doping Agency would handle enforcement, laboratory testing, and violations.
The legislation will also tackle racecourse safety by introducing an accreditation program to ensure tracks comply with maintenance procedures, as well as a national database to track injuries and fatalities.
The bill is supported by animal protection groups and a number of key bodies within the horseracing industry, including the owners/operators of all three Triple Crown racetracks, The Jockey Club, and Breeders’ Cup Ltd.
Cathy Liss, president of animal protection group the Animal Welfare Institute, said: “Watching a horse break down on a track is a horrific, yet surprisingly common sight.
“We are grateful that Congress has stepped in to hold the industry accountable and curb the reckless use of performance-enhancing drugs, which force horses to compete beyond their physical limits.
“We thank senators McConnell, Gillibrand, McSally, and Feinstein, as well as representatives Tonko and Barr, for their leadership in seeing this historic legislation to the finish line.”
Kentucky’s senior Senator Mitch McConnell, who was among those leading the bill in the Senate, said that he wanted to see his state’s racing traditions protected.
‘We remain steadfast in our commitment to making California horse racing the safest and best in the world’
“I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it,” he said.
“With the leadership of Congressman Andy Barr, and the partnership of sport leaders, horse advocates, and fans, we’re one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across Thoroughbred racing.”
The bill still needs to be signed by president Donald Trump as part of the overall 2021 spending package.
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