House committee approves bill that would ban doping of horses on race day

Animal welfare advocates have been calling for federal regulations.

September 09, 2020, 4:11 PM

The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce has approved a proposed bill that would ban the doping of horses on race day -- a key concern over the safety and wellbeing of racehorses.

The Committee voted 46 to 5 on Wednesday to mark up the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which, in addition to banning race-day medication, would establish a uniform set of track safety standards and put in place a uniform anti-doping and medication control program for all 38 racing jurisdictions, according to the Humane Society.

The bill was introduced in March 2019 by U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky. On Aug. 31, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, announced he would introduce compromise legislation. The bill in its current version will now be taken up on the House floor.

PHOTO: Authentic #18, ridden by jockey John Velazquez and the field break from the starting gate during the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 05, 2020.
Authentic #18, ridden by jockey John Velazquez and the field break from the starting gate during the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 05, 2020.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The proposed legislation comes after years of controversial horse deaths and animal welfare advocates calling for federal regulation of horse racing. In March 2019, Southern California's Santa Anita Park introduced a zero-tolerance policy for almost all medication on race day after dozens of horses died within months of beginning the season.

"A big part of the problem has been the lack of clear standards for medications trainers use to mask pain or enhance the performance of horses," Humane Society President and CEO Kitty Block said in a statement Wednesday. "Racing occurs in 38 states, and unscrupulous owners and trainers can currently move racehorses from one jurisdiction to another with fewer restrictions to continue doping horses and avoid penalties."

"The doping of American racehorses has been a controversial issue over the past five years with hundreds of horses dying on racetracks annually, and the indictment of 37 trainers and veterinarians in March of 2020," the Animal Wellness Action said in a statement Tuesday.

PHOTO:  Gary and Mary West's Fighting Mad and jockey Abel Cedillo win the Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes, at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia Calif., May 31, 2020.
Gary and Mary West's Fighting Mad and jockey Abel Cedillo win the Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes, at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia Calif., May 31, 2020.
Benoit Photo via USA Today Sports, FILE

The legislation is supported by all three Triple Crown racetracks as well as the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, according to Animal Wellness Action.

"There hasn't been a better time, or opportunity, to reform horse racing," Block said. "The sport has been plagued by high-profile scandals, including a wave of horse deaths and the indictments earlier this year of trainers and veterinarians in a doping scandal."

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