Congress approves federal oversight for thoroughbred racing

Tucked inside the 5,500-page spending bill that passed Congress was a game changer for horse racing.
Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 9:07 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - While COVID relief and government funding were grabbing all the headlines, tucked inside the 5,500-page spending bill that passed Congress was a game changer for horse racing.

The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act creates federal oversight of medication and safety rules for all racetracks in the United States. It brings uniformity and some transparency to a sport trying to secure its future after spikes in fatal injuries to horses threatened to turn the public away from thoroughbred racing.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Jockey Club General Counsel Marc Summers told WAVE 3 News, “and that sheriff is going to be very, very committed to ensuring that the game is safe and that there’s the integrity necessary for our fans to have confidence in the results of races.”

Currently governed by 38 separate jurisdictions and a patchwork of regulation, the Horse Racing and Safety Integrity Act does what racing could not do for itself, get all tracks in all states to adopt the same rules protecting horses.

“This Horse Racing and Safety Integrity Act includes everybody,” NBC Horse Racing Reporter Donna Brothers said. “Everybody’s going to have to tow the line. So, for the horses it’s optimum. For the culture of the sport it had to happen.”

“The younger generation has shown that they are much more concerned about safety,” Alex Waldro, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said. “And that’s one of the reasons why this legislation is so important.”

Critics complain about the way the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act was passed in the Senate by Senator Mitch McConnell, as it was placed inside a 5,500-page spending bill with no debate or amendments.

“None of that was allowed by the majority leader,” National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association CEO Eric Hamelback said, “and he simply put his politics into the bill and didn’t follow procedure.”

After its passage, McConnell described the act as “… one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across Thoroughbred racing.”

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen called it “… a pivotal moment for the future of horseracing, a sport that will now be governed by world class, uniform standards across the United States.”

Many in the horseracing industry think that protecting horses’ health protects the sport’s future.

With President Donald Trump’s signature on the Congressional funding bill, the impact of the Horse Racing Integrity Act would not be felt right away, as regulations would go into effect in 2022.

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