Ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that next week they will introduce the Racehorse Doping Ban Act of 2019, which would establish consistent medication rules across the industry and strict doping penalties for horse races already governed by federal law.
“It is past time that Congress stop rewarding the horse racing industry for its inhumane doping violations with sweetheart gambling privileges and millions in casino slots subsidies,” said Udall. “This weekend, shielded from the eyes of fans, horses competing in the Kentucky Derby will be injected with painkillers before being loaded into the starting gate. With racehorse death rates higher than in any other country, the U.S. industry has completely failed to self-regulate its doping and corruption abuses. Legislation to ban doping in horseracing is the meaningful action we need to end the abuse of these iconic animals. Headlines around the country make it clear the future of this sport is in serious doubt, and this may be the last chance for meaningful reform—it’s time for industry leaders to take the blinders off.”
“It’s clear industry leaders are more concerned with their profits than protecting these iconic creatures,” Wyden said. “It’s time for Congress to step in and end the cycle of abuse by banning the cruel practice of doping in horseracing once and for all.”
While horse racing showcases the beauty of an iconic animal, chronic abuse of performance-enhancing drugs is commonplace and undermines the safety and viability of the sport. Drugged up with painkillers and performance-enhancing substances, racehorses can be pushed beyond their limits, leading to break downs with potentially fatal consequences for horses and jockeys.
Congress considered banning drugs in horse racing in the 1980s but left that decision up to individual states. As a result, almost every horse is given race-day medication — banned in other countries — and no uniform medication rules or doping penalties exist across the states. A recent New York Times report stated that the U.S. has a racehorse fatality rate that is up to five times greater than in other countries with nearly 10 horses dying a week. The scale of the tragedy was made shockingly clear earlier this year when twenty-three racehorses died in a span of three months at the famous Santa Anita Track in California, prompting the owners to close the track temporarily and consider new reforms.
Under Udall and Wyden’s legislation, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – which is the official anti-doping body for US Olympic sport – would develop rules for permitted and prohibited substances and create anti-doping education, research, testing and adjudication programs for horse racing. The bill would also:
- Put an end to race day medication;
- Set a harmonized medication policy framework for all races with interstate “simulcast” wagering;
- Require stiff penalties for cheating, including “one and done” and “three strikes, you’re out” lifetime bans for the worst cases; and
- Ensure racehorse drug administrations meet veterinary ethics.
Alternative legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would not specifically ban the most harmful doping practices but rather create an industry dominated panel to list approved racehorse drugs.
Udall has fought for years to reform the horse racing industry. He and Wyden sponsored similar legislation in 2013, and in 2015, following the failure of the U.S. industry to agree to meaningful reform legislation, Udall and former Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) introduced legislation to eliminate the federal statute that allows most wagering on horse racing to encourage the sport to end doping and crack down on cheaters.
Some members of the horse racing community have voiced strong support for the Racehorse Doping Ban Act of 2019.
“We wholeheartedly support Senator Udall’s Racehorse Doping Ban Act of 2019. It is time for American to join the rest of the world. Horse racing is a beautiful popular sport in Great Britain, France and Hong Kong. Any type of doping is absolutely prohibited. If our country wants to join the global racing community we must get on board with this no drug policy. More importantly: our country and our horses deserve fair treatment and a fair sport. We would like to honor and commend Senator Udall for working towards this venerable goal,” said George Strawbridge, Jr and Julia Jenkins, owners of Augustin Stable.
“Roy and I have supported the Pitts, Udall Bill since it’s conception. The Racehorse Doping Ban Act of 2019-based on the Senator Udall’s 2013 bill is a well stated, well thought out comprehensive bill. It will save Thoroughbred Horse racing from extinction. It comes at the right time to offer support to the industry in the right way. Giving it guidelines and all-important protection for our beloved racehorses,” said Gretchen Jackson and Roy Jackson, owners of Lael Stables.