Putting a Stop to Doping Horses and Fixing Races

By on July 20, 2015 with 14 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

There is cause for hope that Congress may finally do something to impose some standards on horse racing and empower a non-governmental, independent organization to stop the widespread race-day doping of horses – a contributing factor to perhaps as many as 24 horses dying every week on American racetracks.

Last week, on behalf of a coalition of horse industry and animal welfare groups, Congressmen Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., introduced legislation, H.R. 3084, to create a single independent organization to  set up and enforce uniform national anti-doping rules for thoroughbred racing. In fundamental ways, it’s similar to legislation previously introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. and Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M. – both strong animal advocates – that would put the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in charge of establishing and enforcing drug rules for horses on race day. It’s our hope that the Barr-Tonko legislation, which covers just thoroughbred racing, will be amended – as the bill moves forward – to cover all horse racing, including quarter horse and standardbred racing, which have had their own share of doping scandals, such as the doping of several quarter horses with “frog juice” in 2012.

Some of the biggest names in thoroughbred training, such as Rick Dutrow and Doug O’Neill, are chronic violators of the typically weak, highly variable state-based anti-drugging rules. And just about every horse running in the Triple Crown races this year was running on Lasix, a drug that is widely recognized as a performance enhancer. 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. Just hours before American Pharoah won the Belmont, a four-year-old colt named Helwan broke down, having shattered his ankle bone, and was euthanized on the track. New reports later stated it was Helwan’s first time on Lasix, as he had previously only raced in Europe, where the drug has long been illegal. It’s clear that our horse racing tracks in the United States 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 drugs, 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 shop for a more permissive venue. This is a national industry, and like football or baseball or other major American sports – perhaps more so, since the equine athletes have no choice in the matter and cannot speak up for themselves – we need national standards to stop unethical trainers and veterinarians from doping horses to improve their chances of winning.

The industry is also plagued with dozens of poorly run and regulated tracks having fatality rates as much as three times the national average – the minor leagues of racing, if you will, such as Aqueduct in New York and Charlestown in West Virginia. Here and at other tracks across the country some trainers and owners are allowing unfit, unsound, even injured horses to compete. They are using drugs to get injured horses to run at full tilt, and they are even using performance-enhancing drugs, like Lasix, to push them beyond their physical limits and to put them in the money. They are gambling with the lives of these equine athletes, and this industry is in desperate need of a makeover. It starts with putting the horses ahead of profits.

Doping of baseball players, cyclists, and Olympic athletes is now deeply frowned upon.  Why would we tolerate daily doping of horses in racing? Level the playing field and forbid everybody from race-day doping, and you have real competition and less risk for horses and jockeys. Allowing the doping to continue makes a mockery of bettors doing their due diligence and picking winners on the track. Doping scrambles the deck, and allows drugged horses to outcompete those horses who are running on hay, oats, and water alone. No other racing nation in the world allows the drug-for-all that we permit here in the United States on race day.

The independent organization created by the Barr-Tonko bill would be comprised of representatives from USADA – the same agency that is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sports in the United States – and members of the thoroughbred horse racing industry. The legislation is supported by The Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup, the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (WHOA), the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and other major racing industry organizations, horse owners, track owners, and trainers.

Congressman Pitts and Congresswomen Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., have also reintroduced the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R.2641), which would offer the promise of creating meaningful anti-doping reform across the entire interstate horse-racing industry. This bill would designate USADA as the independent anti-doping organization for interstate horse races. USADA would create rules regarding the use of permitted and prohibited substances, and develop anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs. This is a good bill, but is unlikely to move without industry support. It’s our hope that Reps. Barr, Tonko, Pitts, Schakowsky, and Eshoo, and Sen. Udall will continue to keep the dialogue going and settle on a final bill that forward-thinking horse-industry representatives and animal welfare groups can support, so we can finally stop these terrible abuses on the track.

Why bet on a sport where the fix is in and the human and non-human athletes are at such risk of becoming casualties? It’s time for Congress, which enables this entire industry to operate by allowing gambling through the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, to impose some rules on an industry that has failed to clean up its problems on its own. There’s never been a better moment for action.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Jo Anne Normile says:

    In response to the HSUS blog Putting a Stop to doping Horses and Fixing Races: There are so many errors in it, it’s difficult to know where to start and I don’t have time or space to deal with them all. Let’s discuss a few:

    “The horse-racing industry is plagued with dozens of poorly run and regulated tracks . . .” Are you kidding me? The inference is that they do not want this “plague” yet they have fought any change in the status quo for over 40 years. Just who do you think brought this “plague” upon these horses? The people in this gambling industry that daily abuse and sacrifice the life and limbs of thousands of sentient beings who cannot even give a whimper to indicate when they are in pain and if they show any signs of not wanting to run faster, they are whipped.

    How many years of morning training has the HSUS attended? More horses are out on the track every morning than on any race day and there’s no rules and any whip goes and they don’t even have to count their injured or dead in morning training! Some tracks do not even have a vet on the premises so when a horse breaks a leg training, it lies there in agony until a vet can be found to come.

    Drugs? Why are they given the majority of the drugs in the first place? A humane entity like the HSUS does see this cause and effect? Do I have to spell it out? Racing in and of itself is maiming these horses, and then ALL tracks not just the ones cited continue to race unsound horses until they have to resort to the steroid injections into fractured joints, torn tendons and ligaments and painkilling drugs which then increase the breakdown rate. There’s no chicken or egg theory here. RACING a healthy horse is abusive in and of itself and that’s what causes death or injuries that then leads to drugs.

    Sport? Referring to racing as a sport? Really? True sports are profitable through ticket sales to fans, merchandising of products and television rights despite paying their athletes exorbitant salaries. You do not routinely see their athletes snapping a leg off or lying dead in the dirt yet it happens in horse racing all the time and when their careers are over, human athletes also are not slaughtered. Yet the HSUS believes racing is a sport? How can that be?

    There have been sports teams that have gone bankrupt yet not one of those true sports teams asked for and was given permission to have slot machines so they could stay in business.

    Horse racing is a form of gambling pure and simple. Take away the gambling component and the whole thing collapses. Horse racing has been on the decline (just check out the Jockey Club Online Fact Book) for decades. People were so disinterested in attending every day races that they had to have a federal law passed allowing them to simulcast their races for gambling across state lines — the only gambling entity allowed to do this. Despite these offsite wagers now comprising 90% of their gambling intake, they began whining about state lotteries and casinos so then they were allowed to have slot machines or “racinos” or free-standing casinos began giving them handouts and inflating purses to the point Stevie Wonder can see the horses racing are lame yet the track veterinarians legally required to do pre-race lameness exams cannot find anything wrong with them. The three racing stewards who are also to protect the horses and integrity of this gambling game? They were nicknamed eons ago “The Three Blind Mice”.

    The HSUS should be “putting the horse first”. If they have followed horse racing, then that phrase should sound quite familiar. This very gambling on animals industry that they are striving to save made that promise back in 2008 after Eight Belles crossed the finish line in the Kentucky Derby and promptly shattered both front ankles. Millions watched as she pitifully attempted to rise with her nose slammed in the dirt until a screen hid the view. This industry did not keep its promises and the death, destruction and slaughter of these horses has galloped on.

    Racing is not a sport. It is not in the Olympics like seven other equestrian sports. It is a gambling business that uses live animals instead of decks of cards or dice but destroys them as callously and if the HSUS cared about “putting the horse first”, they would be supporting SB 1174 The Teller All Gone Deregulation Act of 2015 and HR 2182 The Cornado Heights Deregulation Act of 2015, and they would strive to take away slot machines and casino subsidies (that could be going to much-needed education or state infrastructure improvements instead of propping up gambling on horses!!) and see if this is like “other major American sports” and if so, it will survive and if not like “other major American sports” it will die like its horses now do. Anyone want to handicap that one?
    Jo Anne Normile
    Saving Baby – How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption http://www.savingbaby.com

  2. Mary Johnson says:

    I have a question for Mr. Wayne Pacelle. If he can’t answer the question, perhaps one of his colleagues can do so. Why is the HSUS anti-dog racing but not anti-horseracing? These two gambling “industries” are one and the same except for the obvious….different animals. This seems like such a simple question but I can’t get an answer. Anyone up for the challenge?

    • Cheryl Jacobson, Deputy Director, Equine Protection says:

      The HSUS strongly opposes the use of race-day medications in race horses, and we are calling on Congress to pass federal anti-doping legislation, consistent with our nearly four decades of campaigning against doping in the horse racing world. We have taken contemporary horse racing to task with regard to such animal welfare problems as breeding for speed rather than soundness; over-breeding that results in dumping of horses into the slaughter pipeline; the administration of medications on race day; the use of pain masking and performance enhancing drugs; track surface safety; and indiscriminate use of the whip. We are distressed by continued inaction on the issue of race-medications, and believe that the only way to achieve reform at the national level is for some of the major stakeholders to come together and press for change.

      There is a growing national consensus that the multi-billion dollar horse racing industry needs to change. It’s particularly significant that the Jockey Club and a number of other major industry organizations, trainers, track owners, and others want to see change. There is tremendous opportunity for meaningful reforms that benefit animals in need right now, and that motivates our strategic approach to this issue.

      Horse racing and greyhound racing are two different industries, with the latter in rapid decline and illegal in more than 35 states. The prevalence of on-track injuries of greyhounds, and the industry’s long record of failing to provide long-term care for former racing greyhounds, have turned public interest away from the enterprise, which shows no interest in changing, and led us to oppose continued operations.

      All stakeholders in the horse racing debate, whether pro-racing or anti-racing, should support national standards on medications and the humane treatment of racehorses. The common area of agreement is to enact universal reforms on same day doping and to step up to the plate on aftercare. It’s critical that we work with industry leaders and Congress to establish a regulatory framework that improves the welfare of race horses now and in the future.

      • Gaye Goodwin says:

        You can start by being a little more current with the cheaters; Dutrow is out of the game for 10 years, and O’Neill is way down the board on win percentages. You might want to mention the biggest culprit, one Bob Baffert. There is NO WAY he has “turned around” or “trained” so many horses to seemingly NEVER tire in the last eighth of a mile, when other normal horses have to strain and dig for reserves to win.

  3. Patrick Battuello says:

    So the HSUS opposes dogracing because it’s unpopular? How terribly sad. By the way, how’s this for “on-track injuries” – http://horseracingwrongs.com/killed-in-action-2014/?

    • Sally Elms says:

      Do you really think for one moment that the HSUS is against dog racing because it isn’t popular? I believe that the facts were just simply being stated in regard to both dog and horse racing…which at present, are reasons for great concern to all people who have a deep and passionate interest in the welfare of our animals and who despise the undeniable greed that gambling brings with it!!

  4. Rose Smith says:

    Mr. Pacelle, there is no mention of a very important and prevalent abuse of the horse in racing, and that is, starting horses with as little as 3 to 10 days between races. One sees this all the time in the claiming ranks and especially as the horse’s ability declines the frequency of starts increase.

    These unfortunate horses are given the diuretic drug, Lasix IV before each race and recent studies in Kentucky show that the dehydration it causes is not the “normal” kind in that the horse is not prompted to drink and rehydrate himself. It can take several days for normal hydration to return. Of course there are other negative effects such as loss of calcium and magnesium which is so detrimental to the bone structure.

    There are no rules to protect the horse from the abuse of frequent starts. Decisions are left up to the trainer. Obviously, this situation needs attention because so many trainers are over working the horses and everyone is looking the other way. The important thing is filling race cards regardless of what is happening to the horse.

    Further, racing is a corrupt gambling business where winning is what matters, regardless of the means (drugs, joint injections, “buzzers”, etcetera ) not to mention the cost to the horse. To clean up this game with it’s ingrained problems, not least of which is the abhorrent “claiming game”, is a daunting task and, frankly, it will never happen.

    • Sally Elms says:

      What a shame that “some people” really believe that bad issues cannot ever be changed! How discouraged and useless they must feel each day, if that is their outlook for the future of our animals, not to mention the future of our planet as well…I encourage these particular people to really take a good, hard look at all of the never ending hard work that goes into the daily operation of the HSUS!

      In addition to that, perhaps they need to read about ALL the major reforms that have taken place as well as the ones which will soon become part of an anti-abuse movement in regard to animals everywhere!

      I’m certain that Mr. Pacelle has felt like many of the abusive issues that he and his staff and rescue teams have faced, could never be changed either…However, he NEVER let anything stop him from working toward those reformations and I think his record of reforms for putting a stop to so many of those issues, speaks for itself!

  5. Rose Smith says:

    To illustrate my point : In the 10th race at Gulfstream on 25 July, Jill’s Reflection, a 4yr. old filly will have her 51st start. She started racing a few weeks after she turned 2 yrs. in May 2013. She will receive her 51st IV injection of the diuretic, Lasix.

    This filly is being overworked, to say the least, and DNF in two of her races. She is at the mercy of her trainer, Vega, and all “officials” look the other way.

  6. Sally Elms says:

    First of all, I agree with Jo Anne Normile and with Cheryl Jacobson, Deputy Director Equine Protection, whose comments obviously come from two people who must undoubtedly be well informed, in regard to the urgent and much needed reformation of doping race horses!

    In addition, I cannot believe that anyone who is familiar with the HSUS could possibly think for one moment, that it opposes dog racing because it isn’t popular anymore! I believe that facts were just simply being stated and have absolutely nothing to do with the HSUS being opposed to dog racing but not horse racing! It seems to me, that only a person who is definitely not familiar with what the HSUS stands for, or who must just really be bored with their own life would share a comment like that on this site!

    Finally, any person who actually believes that bad issues can NEVER be changed, must be quite discouraged and have feelings of worthlessness…I would strongly encourage that person to take a good, hard look at ALL the reformations that Mr. Pacelle is responsible for and at ALL of the ones that will soon become positive reformations in the never ending battle against animal abuse!

    I’m sure that Mr. Pacelle, his staff and rescue teams have all felt like their seemingly endless fight, against animals being abused in so many variations could never be changed either…However, he certainly did not let that stop him or his teams from continuing to work hard in order to bring those changes about!

    I am sorry for anyone who believes that bad things cannot ever be changed! They’re negative outlook on life must make them feel miserable all the time.

    • Mary Rose Smith says:

      Usually I do not waste my time commenting on people’s assumptions even when they are thinly veiled personal assumptions.

      First, it is not wise to assume how people feel, especially when one does not know that person. I always make it a point of working with facts and try to not allow my assumptions get in the way. Maybe part of that comes from my years as an officer in the USAF.

      As for the assumptions about how I feel : I’m not “negative in my outlook on life”; I’m rarely “discouraged”; I do not have time to be “bored”; I’m far from “miserable all the time” !

      I’m a monthly supporter of the HSUS and also contribute to many rescue organizations. I’m happy to be able to care for my rescued animals, financially and physically, on a daily basis. I care for 4 OTT’s and a formally abused Hackney pony as well as several cats and dogs. And, no, I’m not a hoarder ! I have the number of animals that I can provide the best care for. So maybe it come as a surprise to know I’m lucky enough to be actually doing what I love !

      I stand by what I said concerning racing reform. There will possibly be some new rules concerning drugs but the core of the business, which is a corrupt gambling industry where the horse is a disposable commodity, will remain the same. The stats do not lie. Seventy percent of Thoroughbreds foaled each year wind up being trucked to slaughter. Then take into account the number killed at the tracks each year as well as those that die while training, or in their stalls, and one readily sees that not many of the 30% not slaughtered find a home. Meaningful reform is so much more than the drugs…..

  7. Rose Smith says:

    Should read formerly abused….

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