U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Monday, August 31, 2020, at a press conference in Lexington, his plans to introduce legislation in the U.S. Senate to help set national standards to promote fairness, increase safety, and help preserve Thoroughbred racing. The McConnell bill, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, will be introduced in September following the state-work-period. U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) will introduce the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Because of Kentucky’s leading role in this sport, Senator McConnell brought Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Breeders’ Cup, The Jockey Club, and other industry leaders together earlier this year to develop a solution to the challenges facing horse racing. A number of them joined Senator McConnell and Congressman Barr for today’s major announcement: Keeneland President & CEO Bill Thomason, Keeneland President & CEO-Elect Shannon Arvin, Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO William “Bill” C. Carstanjen, Breeders’ Cup President & CEO Drew Fleming, and The Jockey Club Vice Chairman William “Bill” M. Lear Jr.
“I’m proud to be joined by prominent horse racing leaders in Kentucky as they take the courageous step to increase nationwide safety standards for horses, jockeys, trainers, breeders, and fans. I’m grateful to Congressman Andy Barr for his strong leadership on this important issue,” said Senator McConnell.
Also announced was the launch of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, which will be an independent, non-governmental regulatory body responsible for improving current regulations bringing a new level of transparency. This Authority will also address medication use, track conditions and other safety standards to protect equine athletes. Senator McConnell’s Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act will provide federal recognition and enforcement power for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority to develop uniform, baseline standards for horse racing.
“Kentucky is proud of our distinct horse racing traditions. We must address the challenges the sport faces so we can preserve our heritage and the jobs of over 24,000 Kentuckians who support it,” said Senator McConnell. “As Senate Majority Leader, I look forward to working with Congressman Barr and our colleagues across the aisle on our legislation to give federal recognition to the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. Together, we can better protect every competitor and give each of them a fair shot at the Winner’s Circle.”
Congressman Barr said, “Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of work and negotiation to develop uniform racing standards under one independent regulatory body. The future of the sport depends on fair competition, a level playing field across state lines, as well as the safety and welfare of our equine and human athletes. Now is the time for the horse racing industry to embrace change that will attract a new generation of fans and solidify the future of this special sport. I want to thank Leader McConnell for his partnership on this effort and I look forward to moving this legislation across the finish line.”
“This groundbreaking legislation and the collaborative effort behind it speaks to the commitment those of us in the Thoroughbred industry have to establish uniform safety and integrity standards across the U.S. and bring American racing in line with international guidelines,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “We applaud the leadership of Senator McConnell and Congressman Barr, who share our passion for horse racing and a dedication to strengthening the future of this great sport.”
Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO William “Bill” C. Carstanjen said, “It is critical to the future of Thoroughbred racing that the safety and integrity of our sport be governed by world-class, uniform standards across the United States. The leadership of Senator McConnell and Congressman Barr has been instrumental in our shared goal of bringing the Thoroughbred industry together to achieve this goal.”
“This legislation gives us an opportunity to make the single most significant and far-reaching safety and integrity enhancement in the history of Thoroughbred racing by bringing our sport into the 21st century and protecting its future for generations to come,” said Drew Fleming, President and CEO of Breeders’ Cup Limited. “While there is more work to do both in Congress and in the racing community, we are now on the path to a safer and more transparent sport thanks to Senator McConnell’s leadership and ability to bring people together around this important non-partisan issue. It has been a privilege to work with Congressman Andy Barr, my Chairman Fred Hertrich and my trusted counterparts at Churchill Downs and The Jockey Club, among many others, to contribute to this initiative for the betterment of our industry.”
“The Jockey Club has long pursued a collaborative solution within our industry to establish national reforms ensuring clean competition and improved safety for horses and humans alike. We express our sincere thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and organizations such as Breeders’ Cup, Churchill Downs Inc., Keeneland, New York Racing Association, and The Stronach Group for working so closely with us on this legislation,” said Stuart S. Janney III, Chairman, The Jockey Club. “We strongly believe that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is vital to developing uniform and effective medication and safety regulations that will enhance the integrity and safety of American horse racing and improve the sport.”
The Jockey Club Chairman continued, “We also applaud Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY) and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) for their support and devotion to horse racing and for introducing the original bill into the House and Senate. We will continue to work closely with Congressional co-sponsors, industry stakeholders and animal welfare organizations in our pursuit of national, uniform standards for drugs, medication, and safety in horse racing.”
“Without federal legislation mandating that USADA enact ‘clean’ drug rules, reliable testing, qualified labs and strict penalties for violators, the sport of American horse racing faces an uncertain future,” said Staci Hancock, Managing Member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance. “With Senator McConnell’s leadership and the continued efforts of Representatives Andy Barr and Paul Tonko in the House, WHOA’s members look forward to the day when our great sport can rebuild its reputation, protect our beloved horses and their jockeys, and reclaim racing’s place as one of America’s top spectator sports.”
Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said, “Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stepped up to end widespread doping in American horse racing and to address racetrack safety, the key contributing factors to fatalities on American racetracks. We cannot continue to look the other way when a racehorse is severely injured or killed during training or a race. This measure will advance necessary reforms that will make or break horse racing in the United States.”
In reaction to the news Monday, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association distributed the following statement:
“Horsemen should view today’s developments with the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act with hope,” said NYTHA president Joe Appelbaum. “It’s been clear for a generation that a systematic approach to equine welfare is needed and this effort is a big step in that direction. The broad changes proposed today by Senator McConnell are a significant improvement on previous drafts of legislation and I’d like to personally commend the industry participants for working together to overcome their differences.
“The real work starts now, as we will need to not only pass this legislation but actually implement its proposals. NYTHA looks forward to working with all parties to ensure that horse racing has a worthy system ensuring the safety of our equine athletes and a level playing field. Our primary stakeholders, horsemen and bettors, deserve nothing less.”
The Stronach Group, via its 1/ST Racing brand, released the following statement of support from CEO Craig Fravel:
“1/ST RACING is committed to achieving the highest level of horse care and safety standards in Thoroughbred racing and we strongly urge Congress to consider the adoption of The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act that will introduce national policies to control medication and regulate anti-doping in the sport of horse racing.
“At 1/ST RACING our priority is to ensure the safety of our horses and riders and we believe that the investment into equine health and safety is not only the right thing to do, it is crucial to the future of Thoroughbred horse racing. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act recognizes that industry stakeholders including the owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys, and racetrack operators must be unified toward a new standard of equine health, safety and welfare.”
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper provided the following statement after the news was announced:
“The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) applauds the introduction of federal legislation which will provide safety and welfare uniformity within the sport of horse racing. DMTC’s commitment to the safety and welfare of our human and equine athletes is unwavering. We are proud of the recent industry-leading medication reforms that have been implemented at Del Mar and at California’s other horse racing venues. We urge Congress to support similar medication regulation for horse racing throughout the county.
“DMTC is a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition and is accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. DMTC looks forward to continuing our work with other industry stakeholders, legislators and regulators to ensure our sport is conducted at the highest levels of safety and integrity.”
National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association CEO Eric Hamelback released the following statement:
“Today, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced his plans to introduce legislation that purports to set national standards to promote fairness, transparency, and increased safety in Thoroughbred racing.
Senator McConnell claims to have found compromise within the industry, yet no representative horsemen’s groups, horseplayers or veterinary leadership organizations seem to have been consulted in the collaboration. The National HBPA represents close to 30,000 owners and trainers who want nothing more than increased safety and integrity to secure the strength of the business and our industry.
The greatest concern of the National HBPA is protecting the health and safety of horses. If Senator McConnell is serious about hearing from tens of thousands of real Kentuckians, as well as horsemen across the country, we stand ready to meet with him. We certainly hope he will meet with us since those pushing this bill have mischaracterized the industry and our views in the past.
As CEO, I can tell you we were never consulted on the recently-announced Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. Contrary to an erroneous statement made by another elected official at today’s announcement, the HBPA was not made aware of any “compromise” negotiations until a deal had already been reached, nor has the Board of the National HBPA even been asked for its support.
Because the legislative text has not yet been released, the National HBPA will reserve final judgement, but we caution our elected leaders to not be misled by the wealthy few who continue to promote federal legislation in service to their own, private interests. Based on what we heard today, we are concerned these elite few continue to hold the reins.”