Update 12/28/2020: The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HSIA) described below is now law as it was included in the year-end government funding bill.
The framework for a new federal bill that would institute an independent anti-doping and medication control program and track safety standards for horse racing was unveiled at a Keeneland press conference on Monday.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HSIA) would create the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority; a nine-member panel would craft the rules that would be administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
“We’ve seen painful tragedies on the track in recent years. Doping scandals have rocked the horse racing community,” bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted as saying in Thoroughbred Daily News. “These challenges pose a threat, not only to this industry, but also to the 24,000 Kentuckians who work in it…. If we want to preserve horse racing and its future, we [need] to act.”
According to McConnell, a Washington Post op-ed from March that called for the end of horse racing spurred him into action. The op-ed was a result of the indictments of 27 people in a widespread horse doping scheme.
The new bill looks to set standards similar to international markets to curb abuses.
What’s in the Bill?
Thoroughbred Daily News is also reporting that Rep Andy Barr (R-KY) will amend an existing House bill to mirror the Senate bill.
The bill, according to Barr, is aimed at “creating a single, nationwide set of rules” to govern the industry. A lot of the specifics are still unknown, but the new HSIA has brought many entities on board, including Churchill Downs. Churchill had expressed concerns about past efforts but is supporting the new McConnell bill.
“The crux of the bill is that this new entity, the Authority, will have jurisdiction over the design, implementation and enforcement of anti-doping and medication controls, as well as racetrack safety protocols,” Churchill Downs Interactive CEO Bill Carstanjen said. “With respect to the anti-doping and medication control program, the Authority will contract with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for their services in managing and administering the program developed by the authority. The Authority may also contract with state racing commissions, as it makes sense both with respect to the medication and control program and racetrack safety program.”
One notable change from past efforts is the HSIAs focus on thoroughbred racing, but the legislation does allow for harness and quarter horse racing to opt-in to the standards it sets.
Does HSIA Have A Chance to Pass?
Congressional action in 2020 is far from a given, even on the most critical issues. That said, the bill will have bipartisan support (the House bill filed by Rep. Barr and Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York had 250 cosponsors), as well as the overwhelming support of the horse racing industry. The latter is something previous attempts at creating a federal framework lacked.
In addition to Churchill, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association was cited as a supporter during the press conference, and statements of support came from NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke, Craig Fravel, Chief Executive Officer of The Stronach Group’s 1/ST RACING, and Joe Appelbaum, President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
The legislation could be included in any end-of-session house cleaning Congress takes up.