Kentucky Derby winner’s disqualification highlights ongoing need for horse racing reform

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on February 23, 2022 with 5 Comments

The regulatory system in horse racing has been broken for years, and public confidence in the sport continues to wane. This week’s news that Medina Spirit is being stripped of his 2021 Kentucky Derby win is yet another blow.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday vacated Medina Spirit’s victory due to findings of illegal doping. His trainer, Bob Baffert, has been suspended, fined and prevented by the Churchill Downs racetrack from running a horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby. However, due to the lack of a national doping authority or standard within the racing industry, Baffert can take his horses to another state and continue to train them and enter other races. There are no national rules that apply in every state, and there is no requirement that other states follow Kentucky’s ruling.

This was the mess we joined with others to try to fix several years ago. The confusing and sometimes contradictory regulations for the 38 states that allow horse racing have enabled cheaters to benefit from a chaotic system and endangered the lives of horses pushed beyond their limits, resulting in countless racehorse deaths. To remedy this, we at the Humane Society of the United States created the National Horse Racing Advisory Council and joined progressive racing industry members and the Humane Society Legislative Fund to lobby for passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, signed into law in December of 2020.

The bill created a new nonprofit Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (with oversight by the Federal Trade Commission) to establish two committees: one to implement tough racetrack safety measures and the other to enforce doping regulations. The racetrack safety rules are being reviewed by the FTC and are scheduled to go into effect on July 1 of this year.

Unfortunately, the committee charged with overhauling doping regulations lags behind because negotiations between the authority and the organization that the law designates as the enforcement agency of choice—USADA, the United States Anti-Doping Agency—have stalled.

We and many other supporters of the law believe that USADA, an organization recognized by Congress, is uniquely qualified to clean up doping in horse racing. For that and other reasons, we urge the parties to return to the bargaining table quickly to produce an agreement and put us on a better and faster course to industry reform.

We remain confident that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act will improve racehorse welfare and save equine lives, and we’ll continue working to ensure that the law’s potential is realized. We have reviewed the proposed racetrack safety and enforcement regulations and provided our input, and we will do the same thing when the drug enforcement regulations are circulated for public comment. We believe that many important provisions were included in the proposal that would provide substantial improvements to racetrack safety. We will also continue to champion the involvement of a tough enforcement agency such as USADA to do the job mandated by law. Time is wasting, and horses’ lives are at stake.

Medina Spirit’s story now haunts the longer running debate over reform. Sadly, the 3-year-old colt died a few months after the Derby following a workout at Santa Anita Park in California, and the results of his necropsy have been labeled inconclusive. But there is no doubt that illegal drugs were implicated in his Derby win. Horse racing’s leadership cannot afford to tolerate the atmosphere of noncompliance, generally sporadic oversight and lax enforcement that has fostered Baffert’s and other trainers’ illicit use of drugs in racing and ultimately led to his Derby violation and punishment. Medina Spirit deserved better, and so do the many other racehorses on American tracks right now. We fought and won the battle to bring greater protection for racehorses, and now we’ve got to ensure that they get it.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. 

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Karen Ann Drennen says:

    The ongoing travesty of Horseracing has no words. What sport allows 1500 of its athletes to die every year at US tracks which does not include those killed in training or other medical conditions. Greyhound racing is almost non-existent as well as very few circuses left due to the inhumanity the animals must endure. Horse racing lives on because it is a money making industry .It is corporate welfare in many states.
    It has drug abuse scandals with trainers like Baffert who is a serial offender. Jan 2 2022 Dr. Jeff Blea the chief vet for the CHRB lost his license after doping thousands of horses with drugs without screening them, but he still on the CHRB. Horses are dying in stalls, there are no necropsy reports. 2 and 3 yr olds are racing and dying from ulcers and broken legs and should live to age 30. You can change the tracks, monitor the drugs, stop whipping, have ct equipment at the tracks etc etc and none of this will prevent horses from being killed or severely maimed. . The ones who do survive go to slaughter overseas even Kentucky Derby winners used for stud service wind up in horrific South Korea slaughter which is affiliated with their race tracks. The only reform should be removing horses from horseracing. STOP this travesty not reform it because you can’t.

  2. Wanda says:

    Horse racing is just another outrageous “sport” that allows disgusting people to use and harm animals for their own entertainment. It has no concern for the horses, just what it can cash in for the owners. Horse and dog racing need to be made illegal.

  3. Krystle sinton says:

    Please let these horses be horses. Stop pushing them to the limit. When a horse doesn’t win a race what happens to it. It gets killed for food. It’s all about the money to the rich people and not the horse. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  4. Karin Erker says:

    Stop die pferderennen

  5. Helen Blue says:

    NEVER, EVER SHOULD ANY HORSE BE TRAINED FOR RACING AT AHE TWO!! These horses aren’t fully developed. There knees haven’t completely closed up. By starting these horses training before the age of two, the horse is being put in great danger of breaking down and being destroyed or shipped overseas to be brutally killed in the slaughter pipeline! This must stop NOW. No longer are race horses able to be raced for years like Seabiscuit. His career stretched out for years because he wasn’t started at an early age. He built up a large following and his career extended for years instead of a few months like race horses today.
    It’s time to stop pushing and training these young horses into early retirement. The ONLY reason they are trained too young is because of greedy, money hungry owners who don’t care about the horses. It’s all about the almighty dollar! SHAME ON THESE TRAINERS AND OWNERS!

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