Justify’s story highlights urgent need to root out doping and self-policing from horseracing industry

By on September 13, 2019 with 0 Comments

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

The saga of 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify, recently chronicled in a New York Times article, provides one of the most compelling arguments yet for reform in the horseracing industry and in particular for ending the massive leeway the industry now enjoys in policing itself in regard to the doping of animals.

According to the Times, when Justify charged across the finish line in June 2018 to win the Belmont Stakes, becoming only the second horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, he had already tested positive for a banned drug, scopolamine. The drug can act as a bronchodilator, clearing the horse’s airway and augmenting his heart rate, thereby enhancing his performance.

What unfolded next is a study in how those in the highest power echelons of the horse racing industry bent and twisted the rules to ensure that the star equine athlete stayed in the running.

Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the test results. “Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system,” reporter Joe Drape writes.

The board also decided not to continue with its case against Justify’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Baffert continues to deny intentionally doping Justify, even though a second test he ordered from another lab also came back positive.

There were high stakes involved. Justify went on to become only the 13th winner ever of the Triple Crown. After the Kentucky Derby, his owners had sold his breeding rights for $60 million (documents reviewed by the Times did not show any evidence of pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners).

Justify’s story illustrates just why we need reform in the horseracing industry, where those who promote the sport are also policing it, and where both legal and illegal drugs continue to be used widely.

The industry is now beset by a drug crisis that has led to the premature deaths of thousands of horses over the years. The problem began when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing. This has led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard regarding which drugs are permitted or penalties for doping.

The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a multitude of problems, both for the equine athletes and for their riders. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury, or make it possible to force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in career-ending injuries and even death.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (along with dozens of groups in the racing industry and animal protection arena) support passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820 in Congress. The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Paul Tonko , D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., and in the Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., would not only ban race day medication and substantially increase out-of-competition testing, it would also remove state racing commissions from oversight of all medication regulations and enforcement. The bill would also grant independent control over rule-making, testing and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Finally, it would create a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by USADA, an independent entity that oversees testing of U.S. athletes at the Olympics and many other sporting events.

We are also calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Justify’s drug test and an overhaul of drug testing policy to protect racehorses from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

Horseracing is at a true crossroads, and it’s time things changed for the better, especially for the equine athletes. Please contact your federal legislators today and urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act and do all they can to help secure its passage. Let’s make this the year this important bill races across the finish line.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

 

Lions are in danger of extinction, but the U.S. will reward a trophy hunter who killed one with an import permit for the animal’s body parts

By on September 12, 2019 with 0 Comments
Lions are in danger of extinction, but the U.S. will reward a trophy hunter who killed one with an import permit for the animal’s body parts

For the first time since 2016, when the United States protected lions under the Endangered Species Act, the Trump administration will allow an American trophy hunter to bring home the body parts of a lion he killed in Tanzania. This is the second such instance . . . 

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HSUS investigation uncovers sick puppies, dead rabbit at Texas Petland outlet; animal control agency cites store for alleged violations

By on September 12, 2019 with 0 Comments
HSUS investigation uncovers sick puppies, dead rabbit at Texas Petland outlet; animal control agency cites store for alleged violations

Our latest undercover investigation of a Petland store, this one in Frisco, Texas, has revealed frail and ailing puppies, including dogs too sick to eat and suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. Also among the gruesome discoveries was a dead rabbit in a freezer – the . . . 

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Breaking news: California lawmakers ban fur sales, bobcat trophy hunting

By on September 10, 2019 with 1 Comment
Breaking news: California lawmakers ban fur sales, bobcat trophy hunting

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson Update: The bill to ban fur sales has also passed the concurrence committee and will now head to the governor’s desk for his signature. In two historic votes for animals, California lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to ban fur sales . . . 

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Breaking news: EPA moves to end animal testing

By on September 10, 2019 with 22 Comments
Breaking news: EPA moves to end animal testing

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson In a landmark announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced plans to end all animal testing on dogs, mice, rabbits and other mammals for chemicals and pesticides in coming years. Instead, the agency will focus on investing in . . . 

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As Massachusetts considers an ivory trade ban, HSUS/HSI investigation uncovers thriving market for ivory in state

By on September 9, 2019 with 2 Comments
As Massachusetts considers an ivory trade ban, HSUS/HSI investigation uncovers thriving market for ivory in state

An undercover investigation from the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International has ​unearthed a thriving market for elephant ivory products in Massachusetts, as lawmakers there consider a bill that would ban the ivory trade within the state. Our investigators visited the . . . 

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At Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, repeat soring offenders win championship, ribbons

By on September 5, 2019 with 12 Comments
At Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, repeat soring offenders win championship, ribbons

It is a scenario that would be impossible to fathom anywhere other than within the bizarre world of walking horse competitions. Last Saturday, at the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, the event’s top honor of World Grand Champion went to a horse, I’m Mayhem, trained . . . 

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U.S. says Michigan businessman who killed critically endangered black rhino can bring his trophy home

By on September 5, 2019 with 44 Comments
U.S. says Michigan businessman who killed critically endangered black rhino can bring his trophy home

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson An American trophy hunter who killed a black rhino in Namibia will receive the Trump administration’s consent to bring his spoils home. This is the third time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to import . . . 

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Breaking news: Arizona bans wildlife killing contests

By on September 4, 2019 with 12 Comments
Breaking news: Arizona bans wildlife killing contests

Arizona today banned all wildlife killing contests for coyotes, bobcats, foxes and other animals, joining a growing number of states taking action to stop these gruesome events in which participants vie for cash and prizes for killing the most or heaviest animals within a specific . . . 

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Breaking news: HSUS helps rescue 30 dogs and other animals from Kansas property

By on September 4, 2019 with 3 Comments
Breaking news: HSUS helps rescue 30 dogs and other animals from Kansas property

Our Animal Rescue Team is on the ground in Kansas right now, assisting the Kingman County Sheriff’s Office with the rescue of approximately 30 dogs, two cats, a horse and two burros from an alleged cruelty situation. The sheriff’s office sought our assistance after concerns . . . 

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As Dorian approaches, HSUS moves animals from threatened shelters to safety

By on September 3, 2019 with 0 Comments
As Dorian approaches, HSUS moves animals from threatened shelters to safety

As Hurricane Dorian moves closer to our shores, an extremely dangerous storm that could cause unprecedented flooding and winds in several coastal states, we’re working with our shelter partners to move animals out of harm’s way. On Sunday, we coordinated an evacuation of approximately 80 . . . 

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As Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, make plans to keep your pets safe

By on August 30, 2019 with 1 Comment
As Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, make plans to keep your pets safe

Update: The Humane Society of the United States is coordinating an evacuation of approximately 80 animals out of three Florida shelters. A rescue flight funded by the HSUS has departed from Jacksonville this morning with cats and mostly large-breed dogs who were up for adoption . . . 

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