Horse Sense Needed to End Doping in Horse Racing

By on June 5, 2015 with 18 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In the run-up to the Belmont Stakes tomorrow, I participated in a discussion yesterday on public radio about the rampant doping of racehorses and the need for reform within an industry that has failed to take responsibility for its problems and runs through its athletes as if they are expendable commodities. The fatality statistics alone are staggering: According to a series of reports from Joe Drape of The New York Times, every week 24 horses die on U.S. racetracks. Jockeys are also being injured and killed at unacceptably high rates. No other sport would tolerate such a high fatality rate.

That toll excludes the horses who don’t break down, but nevertheless don’t make it in the sport. Of the 25,000 thoroughbreds bred each year, far too many are re-routed from the stable to trucks that take them to auctions and then to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, often after a long and perilous journey. I wrote about this problem yesterday in Newsday, and specifically about the slaughter of more than 100,000 healthy American horses every year, for resale as meat slabs to foreign diners.

It’s shocking that so many American racehorses are sent to slaughter, because so many of them are given drugs that have long been deemed unfit for human consumption. They are neither fit for the track nor for the dinner table.

Doping is done on race day to enhance their performance or to mask injuries and to get unsound horses on the track. Some of the biggest names in training, such as Rick Dutrow and Doug O’Neill, are chronic violators of the modest, state-based anti-drugging rules. Doping horses for racing is more dangerous today than ever because breeding practices – which select for speed and champagne-glass legs – make the horses less sturdy and more vulnerable to breakdowns than they were even 10 or 20 years ago. Our horse racing tracks are turning into crash sites.

Right now, regulation of this industry is balkanized, with each of 38 racing jurisdictions having its own set of rules. They allow different medications, varying levels of permissible medications, different penalties for violations, different rules on which horses are tested for drugs, and different laboratories to do the testing. Without one single regulating body, racehorse owners and trainers who are barred from racing in one jurisdiction can simply move their business elsewhere.

This is a national industry, and like football or baseball or other major American sports – perhaps more so, since the equine athletes cannot speak up for themselves – we need national standards to stop unethical trainers and veterinarians from doping horses to improve their chances of winning.

With so many tracks owned by major casinos, there are now very high purses for the owners of winning horses. That results in many owners and trainers gambling it all on their horses – by putting injured horses on the track in order to recoup their investment in the animal on the off-chance that the horse may win.  At dozens of lower-tier tracks in the United States, horses are racing too frequently, racing with drugs in their system, and being put at risk by people who care about profits and not the horses or the jockeys.

Leaders within the industry, and lawmakers passionate about the issue, need to come together and find a common set of reforms they can rally around and convince Congress to embrace. The HSUS has joined The Coalition for Horseracing Integrity in order to push that discussion forward. The coalition is pushing for federal legislation that would establish a uniform set of rules, testing procedures, and penalties, created by the non-profit U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the same agency that monitors Olympic sports in the United States, to rid racing of unethical drugging and doping of horses. Such legislation is crucial to protect the animals and jockeys in an industry that cannot and will not regulate itself.

Unless the key parties come together in Congress and within the industry, we’ll see more stagnation and more problems.

I first wrote about abuses in horse racing 25 years ago. I’m sorry to report that the situation is, at least in some ways, worse than ever. Congress must act, but don’t expect that to happen until the industry itself makes the case for reform. If they do not, we’ll continue to see an erosion of public confidence and empty seats at tracks throughout the United States. Why bet on a sport where the fix is in?

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. michelle says:

    I wish HSUS could work to influence Madeleine Pickens to move away from the horse racing business. If she did it, I imagine others might follow. Wouldn’t Del Mar be much better as an event venue?!?!?!

  2. Zora says:

    There are countless forms of entertainment that don’t include and support animal cruelty. Let’s continue to stand together and offer our voice to those in need…
    Horses deserve far better than current laws provide…. Let’s work together to change this!

  3. Carol Allin says:

    No animal should be used, abused, discarded and even killed because at some moment in time it could no longer meet the owner’s expectations! God expected animals to be treated with respect!

  4. Kathy Konrad says:

    There should be a Ban on slaughtering horses for humans to consume~~its barbaric! It’s shocking that so many American racehorses are sent to slaughter, because so many of them are given drugs that have long been deemed unfit for human consumption. They are neither fit for the track nor for the dinner table.

    • Lisa M. says:

      There should be a ban on slaughtering horses PERIOD–not just as it pertains to human consumption. I could care less about the “human”. This is not about the “human”. The human race has a choice as to what they shove down their gullets. The more unfortunate aspect of animal slaughter is the use and regulation for the pet food industry, which is very poor and downright grisly. Now, if a human is sickening enough to eat a tortured, murdered animal, then they deserve to get sick. I have been vegan for 47 years (all my life) so the very thought of consuming the dead flesh of any sentient being makes me sick beyond words. Finally, obviously there should be a ban on horse racing and all other animal sports. They all involve unspeakable abuse, torture, neglect and abandonment. Humans can find another way to amuse their simple, neolithic minds.

  5. Mary Jordan says:

    Horses naturally run, but know to stop when they get tired, but when there is a person setting on their back with a whip and forcing them to just keep going as hard as they can. It is animal cruelty plan and simple!! All for money, without even a thought about what it is doing to the horse!!

  6. Danielle Typinski says:

    From the age of 5 I’ve always been enthralled with horse racing. My first reaction today as a 48-year old was absolute thrill when I heard American Pharoah won the triple crown. My 2nd reaction was OMG, how many drugs did they give that horse?! My five-year-old self wants to say none, while my almost 50-year old self knows it goes much further than the beauty of horse racing. I’ve made a decision today to uncover the abuse I find in my research. So you might be hearing from me in the future.
    Danielle Typinski

    • Alice D. Rosenfeld says:

      I’m PROUD of you … I do hope you will pursue your latest decision about horses and racing!

  7. Sue carter says:

    Thanks for the timely post Wayne Parcelle. I used to love racing but don’t anymore. Seeing the adulation of Mr. Baffert yesterday, only strengthen my disdain for the Racing Industry. Baffert holds the record for Sudden Deaths for horses in his care, a whopping 7 within 2 years. An investigation by the California Horse Racing Board found that the leading fact attributed to horses by sudden death was being, in Baffert’s barn! One death was traced to Rodenticide (rat poison)Toxicosis which is used to “medicate” horses in some arcane way.
    No, I can’t get excited about racing anymore.

  8. Sue carter says:

    We expect the government to do the right thing concerning our Public Lands. Hopefully, they are giving these cattlemen enough rope to hang themselves.

  9. Julie lovell says:

    Horses are pets and should not be treated and slaughtered for human consumption

  10. Mary Fleming says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that people find it entertaining to watch an animal be beaten to run faster around a track. Horse racing is an abomination as is all so-called entertainment where animals are used – dog racing, circuses, zoos. Race cars not horses or dogs.

  11. Susan H. says:

    I recently learned about horse doping firsthand. I let our trainers use my truck to transport my horse and children for a local show. Walk trot nonetheless. What I found afterwards shocked me. Ace, a syringe and when I asked what it was for the trainer admitted giving it prior to the show – to my horse and put my children on the horse. I contacted the Rhode Island Horsemen’s Association – even every Board member and nothing. I then contacted the New England Horsemen’s Council and still nothing. I want to enact change for the protection of students and horses at all levels or riding. Please pass along this petition so at least we can gain strength by numbers. Thank you.

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