I’m not a fan of Facebook, though admittedly I am addicted to it, and especially to the postings from armchair experts, PETA and other crazies who have yet to set foot on the backstretch of a racetrack, yet slam the racing industry. I’d like to think I am part of the solution as founder and president of a TAA accredited program for retired racehorses and proud to admit I loved being a “racetracker.” I refuse to ring the death knell for a centuries old sport which continues to be made up of devoted fans, owners, and horsemen who appreciate the beauty and athleticism of the thoroughbred horse. The Horse Racing Integrity Act 2019, or H.R. 1754 outlines a plan for a unified industry.
There has rarely been a week in 2019 that the media hasn’t created headlines including death, abuse, scandal and cheating in Thoroughbred racing. Those of us who have walked miles in a shedrow turning left at the corner, or shared tears over an injured horse, or cried with happiness in the winners circle for an inexpensive claimer’s hard fought victory, understand the passion and loyalty involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of raising, training and caring for such powerful yet fragile animals. It’s not the time to throw in the towel.
In March of this year, The Jockey Club, a 125 year-old organization that focuses on improving the breeding, racing and safety of Thoroughbreds, presented a “white paper,” a detailed and informative report titled “Vision 2025, To Prosper Horse Racing Needs Comprehensive Reform.” The paper offers research and solutions to racing’s problems.
The paper found here is refreshing in its honesty, admitting to racing’s “pattern to be reactive, but slow to change, with sporadically implemented and ineffective changes.” Its well researched statistics on Lasix are eye opening and are one of the most informative sections of the paper.
According to a fact sheet issued by Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), co-sponsors of H.R. 1754, the racing industry generates $15.6 billion to the economy while over 241,000 people in the United States are supported by the industry. The importance of these facts fade however, if the safety of the horses and their riders cannot be secured through medication and safety regulations, uniformity in racing jurisdictions, education, and industry support in providing aftercare of the Thoroughbreds when their racing days are over.
“We have the power to make racing safer for our equine athletes, jockeys and all of the support staff that have always carried the sport of kings on their shoulders. The only acceptable number of equine deaths is zero and this legislation would bring us closer to that goal,” said Tonko. “Public outcry around the news of tragic equine fatalities is not a reason to avert our gaze. The Horse Racing Integrity Act meets these problems head-on and honors the confidence of racing fans by lifting up the safety of our equine athletes, jockeys, trainers and all who value the integrity of this sport.”
Confronting the issues starts with changing the 40-year-old rules that allowed each of the many states that hold racing to make their own decisions on medication use and dosage.
Standard medication rules begin with an independent regulator
“The Horseracing Integrity Act would create a private, independent, conflict-of-interest free horse racing anti-doping authority, the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, or HADA,” said The Jockey Club President and Chief Operating Officer James Gagliano. “HADA would be responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program for horse racing. In other words, we would have one rulebook for all 38 racing jurisdictions. No longer will cheaters be able to forum shop or find shelter from sanctions in different states.”
The Act would also help alleviate the confusion between the majority of trainers who do have the best intentions when shipping their runners over state lines to different tracks, especially in the mid-Atlantic which covers NY, NJ, Delaware and Maryland tracks and where legal medications, including withdrawal times, may be different between state racing commissions.
New rules to phase out Lasix
A look in any racing program shows that over 95% of the entrants race on the diuretic (and controversial) Lasix which is a legal medication to prevent bleeding from the small capillaries in a horse’s lungs (called EIPH, or exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage). This bleeding occurs during physical exertion, and is anywhere from an unseen trickle in a horse’s lungs detected by “scoping,” or a very obvious flow of blood from one or both nostrils.
Lasix stirs up the fervent opinion of many horsemen that it helps a horse run to his natural ability by preventing bleeding, and allowing him more starts. The Jockey Club’s white paper states that research proves that Lasix has done more harm than good for U.S. racing, and its use has actually decreased the number of starts made by the horses which use it. The United States is the only country that allows race day Lasix and the white paper notes that American horses run well overseas without it.
In April, 18 racetracks including Santa Anita, Golden Gate, Del Mar, and the three ovals which host the Triple Crown — Churchill Downs, Belmont and Pimlico, formed a coalition to phase out Lasix beginning in 2020 for two-year-olds— and for black-type (stakes) races in 2021.
Aftercare in Place for Non-competitive Runners
The 70 non-profits who are accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and supported by Thoroughbred Charities of America and organizations like After the Finish Line fully understand the support of the racing industry, but most casual fans still are unaware of how racetracks, owners, jockeys, breeders, veterinarians, blacksmiths and others who benefit from the success of racing give back to support the rehabilitation, retraining and adoption that allow these athletes to go on to second careers.
Industry leaders back the bill
As of this writing, horsemen including those meeting in Saratoga in August are in support of the bill: Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds, and 16 trainers including; Tom Albertrani, Christophe Clemente, Gary Contessa, Kiaran McLaughlin, Shug McGaughey, Ken McPeek, Todd Pletcher, Mark Hennig and Nick Zito, and organizations The Jockey Club, Breeders’ Cup, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Stronach Group, NYRA and TOBA .
“We’re enthused,” said Tonka. “It’s before the Energy and Commerce Committee now; the appropriate subcommittee will host hearings in the fall, we want to pass this bill before year’s end.”
“The Jockey Club is grateful to Representatives Barr and Tonko for their strong support of the Horse Racing Integrity Act,” said Jim Gagliano. ”This legislation is vital for the health and safety of our athletes and the integrity of the sport of horse racing.”The bill currently has close to 150 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and for the first time was introduced in the Senate. We are confidant that it will become law.”
Check out a previous article written by Barbara Luna here.