Next Up for Antidoping Regulators: Horse Racing

Organizations in the sport of horse racing appear to be mostly ready to embrace a new antidoping bill that would replace a patchwork of rules governing what drugs horses may be given on race day. While a broad coalition is starting to form around the measure, not everyone's convinced.

Doping has become an existential threat for many sports in recent years, including cycling, baseball, and track and field, as their governing organizations have cracked down on athletes’ drug use. But there’s one sport where doping is common and where the rules are haphazard at best: horse racing.

But soon, it, too, could be regulated by the same body that puts many other sports under the microscope. Last week, the two chairmen of the Congressional Horse Caucus, Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), introduced the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act, which would put the antidoping effort in horse racing under the oversight of an entity created by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

That would be a big shift for a sport that’s been governed by patchwork of rules: The New York Times reports that each of the 38 U.S. racing districts has different doping and medication regulations, and loopholes are abundant.

Horse-racing groups that have previously opposed regulation—including the Jockey Club, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and the Breeders’ Cup—are backing the new bill. They’ve joined several other groups supporting the measure, including the Humane Society of the United States, in the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.

“It is immensely gratifying to see the results of earnest collaboration among such a broad range of stakeholders,” Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel said in a statement. “This bill is designed to bring long-needed reforms to the medication rules in thoroughbred racing and provide a new level of certainty and trust for our participants and fans. We applaud these members of Congress for their foresight in regard to the future of an industry that contributes billions of dollars and generates hundreds of thousands of jobs to the American economy.”

Opposition on Both Sides

One animal-protection organization that isn’t supporting the bill is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which made waves last year when it released an exposé video showing high-profile trainer Steve Asmussen allegedly using inhumane practices to get his horses to run faster. The video led to the regulatory push, but PETA isn’t happy with the resulting legislation.

“[T]he bill is so full of compromises with horseracing apologists that PETA cannot support it,” the organization said. “The bill covers only thoroughbreds, leaving tens of thousands of standardbreds, quarter horses, and other breeds without protection; legitimizes the more than 100 drugs already used in racing, including the powerful and controversial race-day medication Lasix; and keeps racing insiders in key decision-making positions.”

PETA supports a competing bill, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2015, resubmitted from the last Congress:

Meanwhile, the Association of Racing Commissioners International questioned whether USADA should be involved with drug testing at all.

“Equine welfare and medication policy should not be put in the hands of an entity with no experience with such matters and no veterinarian involvement,” ARCI said in a statement to The Horse. “We strongly oppose the politicization of racing medication policies and are concerned that equine welfare policies will be trampled should this be enacted.”

But with horse racing surging in popularity this year—thanks to the Triple Crown-winning American Pharoah—the regulatory drumbeat may be harder to muffle this time around.

Triple Crown-winning horse American Pharoah. (Diana Robinson/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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