Inside the Horseracing Integrity Act’s hearing with Congress committee

Major players in the horse racing industry have testified about the use of performance-enhancing drugs and painkilling drugs to mask the injuries of racehorses, which often contributes to deaths.

The Consumer Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a major hearing on the Horseracing Integrity Act (HIA) that brought together horse racing industry heavy weights and representatives from two major animal welfare groups to advocate for passage.

Witnesses included jockey Chris McCarron who won 7,141 races during his career, winning The Kentucky Derby twice and the Breeders’ Cup Classic five times.  He was joined on the panel by other jockeys and Joe De Francis, the chairman of the Humane Society’s National Horse Racing Advisory Council and the former CEO of Pimlico and Laurel racetracks in Maryland, also testified.

“There are far too many horses becoming injured,” McCarron testified. “Instead of giving the animal the rest it needs, a trainer can rely on his/her veterinarian to administer a medication to mask pain by reducing inflammation caused by an injury.” He added, “This bill directly addresses one of the leading causes of breakdowns.”

The HIA would create a private, independent national horse racing anti-doping authority to be led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the official anti-doping agency for the U.S. Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports. A new set of rules, testing procedures, and penalties would replace the current patchwork of regulatory systems that govern horse racing’s 38 jurisdictions.

“The bar for effectively detecting and punishing [drug] cheaters is so low that it is difficult to fail. Frankly is it more of an IQ test than a drug test…each trainer knows what they’re being tested for and when they are being tested,” said De Francis.

Francis continued: “There is little, if any, out-of-competition testing, the kind of testing that has proven so effective in catching athletes who dope in Olympic sports.”

Lear spoke to the subcommittee about the industry’s flawed medication control system, saying, “We really have no system at all. We have a patchwork, and a poor patchwork, within all of the different states.”

Lear went on to outline the national system of medication control that the bill would create and concluded by saying, “We have to do more to get the cheaters and abusers out of our sport. We have to do more to protect the athletes.”

The Jockey Club has long been an advocate of medication reform because the group says that performance-enhancing drugs and therapeutic drugs that mask injuries are a major contributing cause to horse injuries and deaths.

“The overuse of therapeutic drugs – such as powerful pain-masking agents – is one area where change is desperately needed,” said Irby. “Horses that need to be trained or raced under the influence of any performance-enhancing or pain-masking drugs should not be doing so and should be resting instead.”

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