Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is putting his name on the latest effort to introduce universal safety regulations to the industry of horse racing.
Last week prior to the start of the Kentucky Derby in his home state, McConnell announced that he will introduce a bill meant to reform horse racing. This is indeed a promising development for the future of race horses in a sport that has sparked mass disapproval recently due to the discovery of the reckless doping of horses and a rise of grim horse deaths, earning criticism not only from outside audience but also from trainers and stakeholders alike from within the industry.
In Congress, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 has a very strong chance of success, as it is spearheaded now from Sen. McConnell, a Republican from a state with deep economic ties in the racing world. The bill shall also be endorsed by The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Churchill Downs Incorporated, the Louisville-based operator of the Kentucky Derby.
The bill would focus on two primary factors that have resulted to a number of racetrack deaths in recent years - race track safety and the reckless doping of race horses (the ban of race-day medications including Lasix).
Based on The Jockey Club's 2019 equine injury database, about 8.5 horses die during races per week, and that does not even include the casualties during training. Some equine experts believe that track safety and doping are the potential contributing factors. For example, a California Horse Racing Board inquiry last year identified track surface and legal medicine administered on or close to race day, among other factors, in the deaths of 23 horses over a 3-month period.
This is a very alarming number and tragic really, given that these deaths could have been avoided only if proper maintenance and weather effects on tracks have been seriously noted and taken care of. If racehorses are expected to run at full speed, then they should at least (be given the consideration to) compete on tracks created and maintained properly in order to keep them safe.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 will also require common standards for all of the nation's 38 racing jurisdictions. As of now, state regulations on track safety and doping differ from one state to another, and this loophole is a perfect excuse for unscrupulous owners and trainers to move their racehorses from one jurisdiction to another with fewer restrictions so that they can avoid penalties and continue doping horses. The racing commission of each state determines which drugs can be given to racehorses and sets the penalties for those who are found to violate their rules.
Through the years, it has been made clear that state commissions are inept to handle the investigative and enforcement responsibilities involved to keep horses safe in the horseracing industry. The McConnell bill will turn over this job to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the unit in charge of handling drug testing for all American Olympic athletes. USADA would function as a private independent agency, not as a federal bureaucracy and prominent stakeholders in American horseracing, including The Jockey Club, support its presence.