Horsemen and horseplayers reacted with hope tinged with a healthy dose of skepticism to the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, a new piece of bipartisan legislation introduced last Thursday, which seeks to enact unified medication standards and policies in an industry said to be so lacking in this area.
The act, which was introduced by Congressmen Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus, seeks to establish an independent, nongovernmental, anti-doping authority to establish a uniform, national standard governing the use of medications in racehorses, according to a press release.
Citing the “fractured” set of rules governing racing in 38 separate jurisdictions, the bill’s sponsors introduced the Integrity Act by stating, “We must tear down the silos that divide the industry and replace the existing state-by-state system of conflicting and inconsistent rules with a national, uniform medication program that facilitates interstate commerce, promotes safety, and enhances public confidence in the integrity of the sport.”
The news was met by both hope and skepticism by Thoroughbred industry thought-leaders, who spoke with Off Track Thoroughbreds about their gut reaction to the Act. On the positive side, the effort marked a good first step in helping to “clean up racing so it can be the thriving wonderful sport it is,” says John Moore, CEO and President of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and co-owner of M and M Thoroughbred Partners. He owns the racing partnership with his wife Susan.
“This has been the Wild, Wild West of United States racing, and it has long needed a sheriff to come in and straighten things out.” Moore says, noting that the bipartisan effort is a “step in the right direction.”
His hope is that any new law demanding racing integrity would be a well-funded effort that would root out bad trainers who flout doping laws, which in turn increases the safety of the sport for horses and jockeys, and the integrity of the sport for horseplayers.
Len Friedman, a successful horseplayer, partner in The Ragozin Sheets, a race-day publication, author and contributor to the New York Times blog The Rail, says the jury’s still out for how effective the Integrity Act would be. “I’m skeptical that one central body can solve the problem,” Friedman says. “For one thing, there has to be a way to distinguish between an individual positive (for drugs) and a pattern of positives. The only way you can do that is by freezing samples and keeping them for a long period of time.” Friedman’s point: it will take money and serious enforcement to weed the trainers guilty of heavy doping infringements out of the sport.
Through the years, he’s seen those trainers riding the pinnacle of success, the “miracle trainers” who get miraculous results from horses who failed in other hands. “These trainers are the ones who have horses who, in the middle of the stretch when all the other horses are getting tired, are getting a second wind,” he explains. “Drugging has been going on since I started handicapping in the 60s.”
In his opinion, there are relatively few trainers in the sport who are flouting doping laws; perhaps 50 nationwide, he estimates. “The problem is that they win a lot of races, which means the owners have more money, and they have a disproportionate effect on the jurisdiction they’re in,” he says. “This isn’t limited to big-money places like New York and California. There’s people in all racing venues … would a central agency ensure it wouldn’t happen, would it help? I’m not convinced.”
Nor is Kentucky horseman Ann Banks convinced that a central governing body will be a cure-all.
“First and foremost, I understand the excitement that everybody has for this (Integrity Act),” Banks says. “Everybody understands that there has to be a level playing field, and a uniformity in medication. But, I’m concerned about establishing a uniform entity that will be taking away all the power from the states.
Further concern centers on the cost of such a board. “They have no funds for this, and they’re saying they’re going to get loans, donations, and they’re going to charge each state on a monthly basis a fee for every racing start,” she says. “Where are the racing commissions going to get that money?”
Though excited that the concept of racing integrity and uniformity has reached the highest levels, her concerns also take her to the controversial issue of Lasix, a drug used therapeutically in racehorses to prevent bleeding. “I’m concerned this is a backdoor way to get to the Lasix issue, and I am very supportive of allowing Lasix use,” she says. “I’ve dedicated my life to humane horsemanship and horse-friendly racing. Lasix is a humane, therapeutic drug, and not a performance enhancer.”
Jan Vandebos of RanJan Racing of California saw the Integrity Act more positively.
Like Banks and Moore, Vandebos adds her name to the list of horsemen who support the continued use of Lasix, a drug used to prevent bleeding in racehorses.
But, she is more optimistic about the possible impact of the Integrity Act.
“They’re trying to create some uniformity across the country,” Vandebos says. “Right now, the way it works is that if a horse runs in California and then ships to Kentucky, we’re dealing with different medication rules,” which could prohibit the same horse from running in both states. “If we had uniformity, the trainers would all know where they stand, and what they can use, and that’s positive.”
And for Vandebos, the best possible outcome would be that trainers who break doping rules would be exposed, and ultimately driven out of the Sport of Kings.
“I think it’s going to help the horses, the owners and the breeders. That’s just my opinion,” she says. “The business needs to get cleaned up. I don’t think a lot of young people (will be attracted to the sport of racing) if we don’t take care of these horses.”
16 responses to “Will the TB Racing Integrity Act help?”
Janice, I so agree we must be the voice for these magnificent but pitiful creatures used as pawns in a gambling industry and be a groundswell of objection. No waiting for legislation. If there were enough “good people” in racing, they would have gotten rid of the bad decades ago. They are only now coming forward because social media is educating people about racehorses that literally run for their lives so they are forced to try to do something but it is too late. The slaughterhouse is still the finish line for the majority of racing’s horses whether those non-competitive or injured at the track, ill-conformed young ones, broodmares that no longer can carry a foal or who have not produced “a runner” and for the sterile or aged stallion. Slaughter is the number one killer of racing’s horses yet the Jockey Club annual round table conference on the safety and welfare of the Thoroughbred horse has NEVER EVER had horse slaughter as a topic in this discussion on safety and welfare. When they HAVE had important issues brought up that are supported by tons of peer-reviewed research such as the banning of toe grabs which greatly increase catastrophic injuries, they do NOTHING to ban them even though other countries only allow rim shoes. Is there a reading comprehension problem in the racing industry?
Last year they tried to get a bill through congress, but it was a waste of time. Now there is more momentum and more organizations came together to try it again, and it is all over the news that a new bill will be introduced soon.
Here is a link to the only article I was able to find with some more specifics, and these are, that the bill has been so ‘watered down’ in it’s language, that it about defeats the purpose and almost nothing is about to change… (just my opinion though)
One day later, one of the founders of WHOA, which is one of the organizations receiving much support from industry insiders lately, wrote a Letter to the Editor in regards to this article, stating that after reading these details, [WHOA seems to have supported the wrong bill]….
Simply said, all supporters of the previous bill were pretty much let down here and this only means that still more horses and riders will get injured or die due to medication overuse – business as usual.
Sounds harsh? Maybe. But even if the USADA will take oversight, they will be limited to what they can do, due to the chaged language in this proposed bill and the changes will be minimal if the bill should pass.
My wife and I had had a total of 12 OTTB’s. None of them have had any of the crashes like you speak of. We have had some come from real low rent tracks like Finger Lakes, Atlantic City, Penn National. We have also received horses from nationally known trainers too. What we have seen is related to the changes in the horses diet from a high protein diet processed feed diet to more of a forage based diet. I have received horse with ulcers, including my newest OTTB, but it is an easy thing to take care of.
I think that racing has been dirty for so long, that many of the players have no idea what is right and wrong. Many that do will try to skirt any form of regulation. The sad thing is that I do not think this will do anything to improve the racehorses lot in life. Too many vets with no spine and the inability to say no to the trainers. Too much access to medications from sources outside of the track vets and way too many people thinking they are qualified to administer medications to horses that have little or no training. Then there is the greed factor. To many, the horse is just a means to a paycheck, nothing more.
That’s exactly where we are at with it, Jon, and time that animals stop being used as dice or cards in a gambling industry that disposes of them as easily.
Football has the NFL, basketball has the NBA ect……horseracing needs the same governing body to protect the athletes interests as the football players, basketball players and so on.
It is my opinion after due consideration that these Owners and Trainers, as well as the Track Veterinarians and the Jockeys, should ALL be investigated under the RICO act. Drugs interfere with Gambling and as we saw with ‘Big Brown’ he was the fastest Horse on Drugs. It is not fair to the Horses of any Racing Breed; Quarterhorses, Arabian Endurance Horses, and Standardbreds, to be given drugs which cause horrific side effects such as Heart attacks and broken bones.
When these horses come off a track they are usually at a Livestock Auction and are shipped to Mexico and Canada for Slaughter despite the fact that some drugs such as Bute invade at the Cellular level and never ever purge the Horse’s body. This is a danger to Human and Animal health. Watching a Thoroughbred go through a withdrawal is sickening and sad. The only thing that can be done is to keep them hydrated as they have no interest in eating and they ‘Run their Stalls’. I have had every Off Track Horse suffer the withdrawal from drugs. Gastric Ulcers are common and sometimes they never heal.
I have very little faith in this Legislation passing or being followed should it pass. I am for RICO all the way.
Your comment is very thought provoking and appreciated. I would be interested to know where your rescue is located. I am in Texas.
I am in New Jersey. Our State Animal is The Horse. We still have horses being slaughtered in NJ and the Governor did not know about the Slaughter for Zoos. The SPCA of NJ takes horses and ponies and their cousins directly to kill. The horses are given up or they are seized for some reason. The NJ Dept of Ag does not have a problem with this. It is a rancid Department and all of them should be fired. There are plenty of Vets that are ANTI SLAUGHTER but they don’t have any attention paid to them so they formed a sub section of the AVMA to get their voices heard,
A few years ago a number of vets that were absolutely opposed to horse slaughter and disagreed with the AVMA and AAEP pro-slaughter positions formed the Veterinarians for Equine Welfare. Ask you vet to join them! Their website has tons of information.
If every TB you have ever gotten “suffers from withdrawls” you are getting your horses from the bad apples we all want weeded out. Most of us keep our horses on ulcer meds or supplements at all times. The horses I move to new careers go right into retraining. Had one who was giving his new owner’s 4 yr old son lead line rides on DAY 2. Taking a horse from a very regimented lifestyle and turning them out to “just be a horse” usually rattles their whole psyche and people say they are “detoxing”. Not so. Take them home, start light work, start some turn out, but keep them On A Schedule and on good feed and they transition very nicely.
I have been rescuing off track horses for 20 years. Some of the first Horses I rescued passed due to natural causes. Gastric Ulcers can be treated by Diet. This horse is a great granddaughter of Secretariat and she injured herself at the track so they took her to the New Holland Livestock Auction in PA. You clearly have not rescued the types of Horses I rescue each and every year. I have Horses in my rescue ranging in age from 5 to 24. The only Off Track Horse I will keep for life is that Great Granddaughter of ‘Secretariat’ and her racing name was ‘OkayRennee’. The best thing about her breeding is her Sire who was an Irish Thoroughbred.
Tiggy: Thank you for your comment!! ‘ve been promoting use of RICO for 15 years. I even filed a complaint with the FBI in the 2000’s with supporting exhibits. Never heard from them other than an acknowledgement of receipt. I can’t for the life of me — with wagering across state lines and the collusion involved in the fixing of races with the use of drugs does not come under RICO. Racing is simply too inbred. All who are suppose to be the watchdogs receive their income from the bets or wagers on the horses. Therefore, the more horses running (albeit lame and drugged), the more money they all make. It’s a conflict of interest with horrific consequences for thousands of horses.
RICO IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO!!!! If I had the funds I would sue the entire Horse Racing Industry due to the drugs. These drugs interfere with Gambling as poor ‘Big Brown’ proved he was the quickest Horse on Drugs! He look so defeated and confused. I felt very badly for him.
The conciousness and integrity to do the right thing even if it is difficult or costly cannot be legislated or enforced by a man made law.Those that exploit the innocent and cause pain and suffering for personal and financial gain will not be stopped by a law. It is up to the rest of us to help their victims.The law is a good step in helping us to help them but it is not a cure all.