Op-Ed

Horse racing’s future depends on uniform rules for medication, testing

Horse racing fatalities in Kentucky increase significantly

Statistics on Kentucky horse racing fatalities in 2018.
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Statistics on Kentucky horse racing fatalities in 2018.

I am honored to represent the Horse Capital of the World, and throughout my time in Congress I have worked diligently to enact polices that will promote economic growth and investment in this key Kentucky industry. I continue to believe that the future prosperity of the sport depends in part on implementation of national uniform medication standards and testing procedures.

For these reasons, last month, I reintroduced the Horseracing Integrity Act with my colleague and co-chair of the Congressional Horse Caucus, Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). This legislation would lay the foundation for the future growth and competitiveness of racing by enacting reforms to achieve uniformity, safety, and integrity. Currently regulated by 38 different jurisdictions, our signature racing industry labors under a patchwork of conflicting and inconsistent, state-based rules governing prohibited substances, lab accreditation, testing, and penalties for violations.

The Horseracing Integrity Act authorizes the creation of a non-governmental anti-doping authority governed by representatives of all major constituencies of the industry and responsible for implementing a national, uniform medication program for the entire horseracing industry. These reforms would eliminate the perception of unfair competition and enhance the reputation of U.S. racing on both national and international levels.

Additionally, this legislation would facilitate the development of a standardized list of permitted and prohibited substances. The current version of the bill would also ban the use of all medications within twenty-four hours of a race, consistent with international standards. The most recent draft of this bill was developed through a highly deliberative and bipartisan process and takes into consideration a diversity of perspectives from all parts of the industry. The result is support from over 46 Members of Congress, since its introduction, and from organizations representing all facets of the horseracing industry including breeders, owners, trainers, racing associations, jockeys, and horse players.

Our work is paying off. Recently, a coalition of racing associations, including Churchill Downs, the NYRA, the Stronach Group, Keeneland, Oaklawn and Del Mar – racetracks representing more than 85% of all graded stakes races – came together and signaled their willingness to begin harmonizing its rules with international standards by limiting the use of Lasix within 24 hours of all stakes races.

In Congress, momentum continues to build for the Horseracing Integrity Act as Members become more educated and understand that this truly is an issue of interstate commerce, over which Congress has jurisdiction. I am encouraged by this momentum and expect a Senate companion bill will be introduced this Congress.

Unfortunately, the recent tragic deaths of 23 equine athletes at Santa Anita since December have underscored the need for consistent racing standards and increased dialogue about this legislation. Whatever the cause of the problems in California, I have confidence that my bill would improve the safety of and the public’s confidence in the sport. The HIA is just one example of the actions I have taken to ensure Kentucky’s thoroughbred industry will continue to grow and prosper. As we look back on Justify’ s historic Triple Crown victory last year, American Pharaoh’s grand slam in 2015, and as we look forward to this year’s Kentucky Derby, we must continue to fight for the future of our special industry. By enhancing the safety and integrity of horseracing, we can ensure the Kentucky Derby will always remain the “greatest two minutes in sports.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr represents Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District.

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