McConnell Announces Bill to Reform Doping, Track Safety Standards in Horse Racing

Posted on: August 31, 2020, 08:46h. 

Last updated on: September 1, 2020, 03:05h.

US Senator from Kentucky Mitch McConnell (R) announced plans Monday to file a bill that would dramatically overhaul the sport of thoroughbred horse racing in the country.

McConnell horse racing
US Sen. Mitch McConnell announced Monday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. that he will file a bill that will reform horse racing and nationalize standards in the sport. (Image: Keeneland)

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act calls for the creation of a national body to oversee safety measures in the sport and promote transparency. Much like its harbinger, the Horseracing Integrity Act, the bill calls for a national standard on the use of drugs in racing that mirrors international rules. Chief among them will be a ban on race-day medications, including Lasix.

However, this bill also incorporates measures to address track safety issues.

McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, made the announcement Monday at Keeneland in Lexington, flanked by key racing leaders from Keeneland, Churchill Downs, The Jockey Club, and the Breeders’ Cup. US Rep. Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican who cosponsors the Horseracing Integrity Act with Democratic US Rep. Paul Tonko of New York, also attended.

Although Kentucky’s at the front of the pack, thoroughbred racing is a national and even international sport,” McConnell said. “Just like other major sports, horse racing deserves… uniform standards and guidelines that will help protect this sport and the Kentucky workers that support it.”

McConnell said an editorial in The Washington Post earlier this year that called for the end of racing spurred him into action.

Harness, Quarter Horses Removed, Can Opt-In

Barr said he and Tonko will move to amend their bill to match the language in McConnell’s bill.

“This legislative effort is not about more regulation. It is about creating a single nationwide set of rules that will result in smarter, more effective, and streamlined regulation for the industry,” Barr said.

In addition to tacking on track safety standards, McConnell’s bill also focuses solely on thoroughbred horse racing. Where the Horseracing Integrity Act also called for drug standards in harness and quarter horse racing, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act allows those sports to opt-in instead.

Several horsemen connected to harness racing are part of the federal investigation that brought charges against Jason Servis, the former trainer of Maximum Security. However, animal welfare advocates who spoke with Monday after McConnell’s announcement did not take issue with the new bill focusing solely on the largest of the racing sectors.

Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, said that the inclusion of harness racing in the original bill actually worked to its detriment. Harness racing horsemen have been less willing than their thoroughbred colleagues to work with government leaders on reforms.

“Then they make an argument, which is a good argument, that there aren’t the number of horses dying in harness racing that are dying in thoroughbred racing and other breeds,” Irby told

One Standard for 38 States

The drug testing and regulation aspects of the bill will be managed by the US Anti-Doping Agency. The Federal Trade Commission would handle other parts of the legislation, such as a database of injuries or deaths that occur at tracks.

Currently, 38 states regulate horse racing. That means those states implement their own regulations on drug and safety issues, creating a hodgepodge of guidelines on such issues as the administration of medications and the jockeys’ use of riding crops.

Overseeing horse racing in the country would be an independent non-governmental organization. While there have been concerns raised about state racing commissions and the prevalence of active horsemen on those panels, members of the Horseracing and Safety Authority would be independent and the majority would come from outside the racing industry.

“I think that that’s very important that you have people who don’t have a financial interest making decisions, and again, that speaks to the integrity of the bill,” Valerie Pringle, equine campaign manager for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told

Chances of Passage Good

Besides Churchill Downs, Keeneland, The Jockey Club, and Breeders’ Cup, whose leaders spoke in support of the measure at McConnell’s press conference, the new bill quickly received support from a number of other key stakeholders, including the New York Racing Association and 1/ST Racing, formerly known as The Stronach Group.

With the support the bill has, the question on the legislation is now a matter of timing.

The current Congressional term ends in four months. While all House seats and 35 Senate seats are up for election in November, and a COVID-19 relief bill remains locked up in debate, supporters are optimistic the legislation will pass by the end of the year.

This is important to a lot of people, and, I think, that’s going to help speed it through, especially with McConnell’s backing,” Pringle said.

McConnell’s position as the top Republican in the Senate certainly gives the legislation the weight it needs to pass quickly. More than 250 cosponsors back the bill Barr and Tonko filed last year, as more lawmakers grew concerned about racing safety. However, despite a majority of members supporting the legislation, the bill has only received one hearing over the two-year term.

McConnell noted that several aspects of the bill have bipartisan support, noting the California US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, has spoken out about track safety because of issues that arose at Santa Anita last year.

If the bill becomes law, the authority and regulations would be in place within 18 months.

“I am very excited today because I have little doubt that we will get this done and signed into law and finally solve the issue of doping,” Irby said.