Horse News

Landmark Bill to Stop Drug Use in Horse Racing

Thoroughbred racing at Churchill Downs.

Image via Wikipedia

by Laura Allen of Animal Law Coalition

Racing Industry has Failed to Protect the Horses

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) have introduced H.R. 1733/S.B. 886, the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act  of 2011 which amends the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978,15 U.S.C. 3001 et seq.) .

Under the 1978 Act, simulcast or offtrack betting was allowed, a very lucrative benefit for the horse racing industry.

There is no question the industry’s effort at self-regulation even with some new state laws, has simply failed to protect horses from abuse from the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs. 

Now, Congress proposes to qualify the benefit bestowed under the 1978 Act by  regulating racing to the extent necessary to rid the “sport” of these drugs.

“This weekend, the very best of horseracing will be on display at the Kentucky Derby. Yet, for too long, the safety of jockeys and equine athletes has been neglected for the pursuit of racing profits,” Rep. Whitfield said.

“The doping of injured horses and forcing them to compete is deplorable and must be stopped. Despite repeated promises from the racing industry to end this practice, meaningful action and oversight has yet to come forth. This legislation will bring much-needed reforms to an industry that supports thousands of jobs and is enjoyed by spectators nationwide.”

“Chemical warfare is rampant on American racetracks, and unlike other countries, our law does not reject this unscrupulous practice. A racehorse has no choice when it comes to using performance-enhancing drugs, but this legislation takes away that option from those who would subject these magnificent animals to such abuse for gambling profit. Those involved in horseracing will have to play by the rules or face getting kicked out of the sport,” Sen. Udall said.

What the bill does

The bill would prohibit anyone from (1) entering a horse in a race that is subject to an interstate off-track wager if the person knows the horse is under the influence of a performance-enhancing drug; or (2)  knowingly providing a horse with a performance-enhancing drug if the horse , while under the influence of the drug, will participate in a race that is subject to an interstate off-track wager.

A host racing association could not conduct a horserace “that is the subject of an interstate off-track wager” unless the host racing association has a policy in place that (1) bans racing of horses that have been given  performance enhancing drugs, (2) also bans persons who provide horses that have been given these drugs, and (3) requires third party testing of the first place horse and another horse chosen at random. Test results would be reported to the Federal Trade Commission or a host racing commission with which the FTC has entered into an agreement to handle enforcement. The host must also have minimum penalties for those caught in violation. 

Three Strikes – You’re Out

A first violation would mean a $5,000 civil fine and a  minimum 6 months suspension from racing where there is interstate offtrack betting; a second violation would mean a $20,000 civil fine and a suspension of at least 1 year; and a 3rd violation would mean a $50,000 civil fine and a permanent ban from horseracing where there is interstate offtrack betting.

The suspension or permanent ban would mean the violator could not participate in any activities including as a spectator at a race where there is interstate offtrack betting.

It would not matter that the violations were at different tracks or in different states. Each violation regardless of where it occurred would count towards the permanent ban.  

Horses given performance enhancing drugs would also be ineligible to race for at least 6 months on a first offense, a minimum of 1 year for a second violation and at least 2 years for each subsequent violation. 

A violation would also be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice, and the FTC would have enforcement authority unless there was an agreement for a state or host racing commission to handle that. Even then, the FTC could still step in and enforce these provisions if the host racing commission does not adequately do so. The FTC would also monitor and handle enforcement with respect to violations occurring in multiple states and in connection with non-profits.

The bill further creates a private right of action. Organizations or individuals with standing could bring an action for injunction or other relief to enforce these provisions and even obtain damages or restitution and attorney’s fees.  

Performance Enhancing Drugs

H.R. 1733/S.B. 886 defines performance enhancing drug to mean (1) any substance capable of affecting the performance of a horse at any time by acting on the nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, urinary system, reproductive system, musculoskeletal system, blood system, immune system (other than licensed vaccines against infectious agents), or endocrine system of the horse ; and 

(2) includes the substances listed in the Alphabetized Listing of Drugs in the January 2010 revision of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Inc., publication entitled `Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances’.”  For more on the ARCI publication….

Unlike other countries, racing jurisdictions in the United States allow horses to be medicated on race day. And there are numerous examples of trainers who have violated medication rules multiple times, seemingly with impunity. A recent Racing Commissioners International letter notes that one trainer has been sanctioned at least 64 times in nine different states for various rule violations, including numerous violations of drug rules.  According to the New York Times, only two of the top 20 trainers in the United States (by purses won) have never been cited for a medication violation.

The Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act is the first Congressional attempt to ban doping in horseracing since similar legislation was considered in the 1980s.

11 replies »

  1. And so why do you think they want to stop the drug use in race horses? Do you think it could be so they can send the cast offs to slaughter? Hmmmm! Could be the same reason Pfizer has joined up with the Horse Council. To redevelop drugs so they can continue horse slaughter and send the meat to Europe. I’m just thinking here.

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    • You know, I was thinking the same thing! It’s a good thing, for the horse’s sakes, to stop giving them drugs, but, at the SAME time, it’s a bad thing since that would make it easier to sell & ship them to slaughter! WHO do these morons think they’re fooling?? I recently had a “problem” with another source, through Facebook, with a group I “thought” was good, HumaneWatch. They are actually a front posing as good, when in fact they are against big animal welfare groups, like HSUS, ASPCA, &, probably PETA as well. I’m thinking they support puppy mills, horse slaughter & the like, so BEWARE of that group! (Kind of reminds me of United Organization of the Horse!!)

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    • This bill is to ban the use of drugs on race day so they aren’t running on drugs. I thought the same thing when I heard about this but then read the bill. There are host of banned substances used on horses that will continue to be used but some of them will be banned on race day or for a short period prior to race day to avoid doping the horse enough that it carries over to race day.

      Too many horses run doped-up to enhance performance or relieve pain from injuries that really shouldn’t be running.

      Whitfield is a supporter of banning slaughter so he’s not going to introduce a bill that would promote it. I haven’t had any contact with Udall so I’m not sure what his stand is but I suspect, he opposes it.

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      • Yeah Vicki your right about Whitfield. After I saw he sponsored it, it left me wondering even more since I know he was an anti slaughter backer. I do agree that horses should not be doped to run on injuries or in any pain. So this bill is a good thing and of course I will support it going forward. I don’t really like that the horses bleed when racing. I don’t understand why this is such a popular sport. But then again its all about the money!!

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  2. I’m a former NYS Racing and Wagering Board Employee (Inspector) who worked on the Saratoga Harness track. This action is needed. Not because of slaughter issues which I think is morally wrong to kill a horse that is your friend, But to protect the betting public from deception.
    Far too many horses that I collect urine samples from Did not test positive right away. Because of the fact that on site testing was discontinued in the 1980′ and since than they were sealed thrown in a freezer and shipped to Cornell for testing.
    Now the State to my knowledge has not paid Cornell University for the additional testing and many samples that were collected were thrown out.
    Now the State uses a State school (SUNY) Morrisville to do the testing of samples collected after each race. Still using the same method (freezing, shipping then testing) The betting public is not in my opinion still not getting a far shot.
    The only on site testing that is done is by Delaware North which owns Saratoga Harness Track and the on site track veterinarian,not the NYS Vet. when I went to school as a vet tech student the one thing I learned that was relevant to this field is the fresher sample the sooner it should be tested, whether blood or urine. You will see valid results coming from this method than from a frozen sample, which had time to degrade and anything that Might be there is no longer.
    Now they should be testing for synthetic insulin in urine and as far as I know the State of NY does not do it as of yet. Of course I’m still out of the job because of political reason, that’s another story but the point is made.

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  3. I’m a former NYS Racing and Wagering Board Employee (Inspector) who worked on the Saratoga Harness track. This action is needed. Not because of slaughter issues which I think is morally wrong to kill a horse that is your friend, But to protect the betting public from deception.
    Far too many horses that I collect urine samples from Did not test positive right away. Because of the fact that on site testing was discontinued in the 1980′ and since than they were sealed thrown in a freezer and shipped to Cornell for testing.
    Now the State to my knowledge has not paid Cornell University for the additional testing and many samples that were collected were thrown out.
    Now the State uses a State school (SUNY) Morrisville to do the testing of samples collected after each race. Still using the same method (freezing, shipping then testing) The betting public is not in my opinion still not getting a far shot.
    The only on site testing that is done is by Delaware North which owns Saratoga Harness Track and the on site track veterinarian, not the NYS Vet. when I went to school as a vet tech student the one thing I learned that was relevant to this field is the fresher sample the sooner it should be tested, whether blood or urine. You will see valid results coming from this method than from a frozen sample, which had time to degrade and anything that Might be there is no longer.
    Now they should be testing for synthetic insulin in urine and as far as I know the State of NY does not do it as of yet. Of course I’m still out of the job because of political reason, that’s another story but the point is made.

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  4. Sadly I can think of one of trainer who was found to have cobra venom in his tackroom. His vet also was in possession of cobra venom.

    Cobra venom is used as an analgesic.

    This trainer was fined and then was on suspension. He couldn’t go to the track PERIOD. Not as a fan or as a trainer. Not sure about sales. He couldn’t even serve a 6 month suspension.

    He is from another country that eats horse.

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    • I remember that cobra venum incident and the name of the vet. This happened in August of 2000, I think in Saratoga. The clinic across the street from the back side of the track was hosting this vet from Austraila. He was using the clinic’s x-ray equipment to process film’s for his clients. Dr. Stewart I think was his name. The State gave him hell. But I think the owner of the clinic escaped scrutiny. The venum is a destructive substance that destroys so yes the horse in question didn’t feel a thing if he suffered a navicular fracture or anything related to structure of the hoof.

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  5. I can see as athletes ONLY, the need (?) to pre-test race horses for drugs, but, only illegal drugs used to enhance racing. Human athletes are no better than equine athletes. Only “needed” drugs should be allowed for health conditions. NO thoroughbred, or ANY other horse, should EVER end up at slaughter. All should get second chances/new careers, or have a safe, retirement until the end, & I mean, a NATURAL end. ALL horse breeders should HAVE to pay into some sort of equine retirement/re-homing, for EVERY horse they bring into this world, or otherwise acquire. Maybe that would help deter them from disgarding them like trash to kill buyers? No drugs allowed for race horses=GOOD, ONLY if they are guaranteed NOT to end up at slaughter!! Maybe, if all the irresponsible, greedy breeders had to pay all that upfront money for each & every horse, regardless of it’s potential, they wouldn’t over-breed & over-populate in the first place??

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  6. The bill is just one corrective approach for an industry that will neither collectively/uniformly regulate OR enforce it’s self for the moral benefit of the participants; human, horse. And yes…the bettor gets the shaft too because the injuries and meds are hidden easily.

    BTW…I believe the infamous US cobra venom “incident” (took forever to investigate, no one really got punished permanently) involved the notorious trainer Patrick Bianncone; a trainer that was permanently banned in the EU and then, moved to train freely in the US. Thought he went downunder or maybe I’m confusing him with the vet and/or owner of the refrigerator on the backstretch where it was found.

    Anyway, the Feds have been giving the industry forever to clean it’s act up and either they can’t or won’t.

    I hope this makes it through the slimey halls of Congress.

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