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Horse racing creates authority to help standardize safety rules

Jockeys lead their horses to the Santa Anita Park track for a race.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Horse racing took what it called a “major step” in unifying equine safety standards with the formation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. That was followed by an announcement that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will allow the introduction of a Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act to the Senate floor this year.

The House has had a very similar bill around since 2015, but it has yet to advance beyond a hearing. The House bill will be mirrored in the Senate bill. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) have introduced a bill in the Senate and Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) in the House.

Horse racing has had its share of what it calls major steps through the years, starting with the formation of the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. in 1997. Last year, it announced the formation of the Safety and Integrity Alliance, much as it did almost 10 years earlier. More than 20 years since the NTRA was formed, though, there is no uniformity in medication and safety rules throughout the almost 40 different state regulatory bodies.

Despite the announcement claiming unanimity over this proposal, Erik Hamelback, chief executive of the national Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn., said it’s not so.

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Gov. Gavin Newson has named Brenda Davis to the California Horse Racing Board. She is the second African American to be appointed to the board.

“… no representative horsemen’s groups, horseplayers or veterinary leadership organizations seem to have been consulted in the collaboration,” Hamelback said. “ … As CEO, I can tell you we were never consulted on the recently-announced Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. Contrary to an erroneous statement made by another elected official at [Monday’s] announcement, the HBPA was not made aware of any ‘compromise’ negotiations until a deal had already been reached, nor has the Board of the National HBPA even been asked for its support.“

The HBPA represents 30,000 owners and trainers.

Until Monday’s announcement, Churchill Downs Inc., one of the biggest players in the sport, opposed the bill in the House. There was no reason given for the reversal. The announcement was held in Lexington, Ky., with representatives of the Breeders’ Cup, Churchill Downs Inc., Keeneland and the Jockey Club as well as McConnell and Barr.

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The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields and several other tracks, and the New York Racing Assn. also favor the legislation.

“We strongly urge Congress to consider the adoption of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act that will introduce national policies to control medication and regulate anti-doping in the sport of horseracing,” the Stronach Group said in a statement.


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