In March of this year, a number of U.S. congressmen introduced a bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, in the hope of creating national-standard drug testing for racehorses. Currently, the United States is the only major racing jurisdiction without set rules, as the existing law regarding horse racing is regulated on a state by state basis; this, unfortunately, sees inconsistent rules surrounding medication use and renders enforcement useless.
It has recently come to light that some trainers administer their horses performance enhancing drugs or painkillers in the hope of a winning finish, encouraging them to run through any pain. Animal activists have called for doping to be banned in the sport while others believe new regulations could improve the quality of care these animals receive. The introduction of an independent body working with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency could regulate medication, banning its use 24 hours before a race.
Horse Racing is a dangerous sport for both horse and jockey, and this new legislation also aims to improve thoroughbred breeding and racing across the country. In 2018, 493 thoroughbred racehorses died as a result of the sport, according to The Jockey Club’s Equine Database. Unfortunately, a broken leg is often a death sentence for horses, and most of these 493 deaths were indeed due to limb injuries. According to Rick Arthur, the equine medical doctor for the California Horse Racing Board, there is an increasing number of deaths in the sport because horse racing has become more competitive. It is also particularly difficult for horses to get the rest they need in places like Southern California as they often race all year round, something which the most seasoned human athlete would never dream of doing.
Executive Director of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, Shawn Smeallie states that the new act is “a horse-first bill” that “will help ensure a safer environment for horses and riders at all tracks”. The act itself will prompt the need for a new, independent organisation responsible for an anti-doping programme, one that can monitor a standardised universal list of permitted and prohibited substances.
A coalition of owners, breeders and traders from the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance commented that:
“the appointment of an independent anti-doping program run by the USADA will resolve the problem of widespread drug use in American racing and put U.S. racing jurisdictions in step with international law”.
Hopefully the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 will continue to receive support from industry leaders and animal organisations.
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