Congress approves bill to crack down on doping in horse racing

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — A bill to ban race-day doping of horses and set national medication and track-safety standards for the horse-racing industry is nearing the finish line. Lawmakers gave final approval to the bill late Monday as part of the massive legislation on spending and pandemic relief.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill in the next few days.

Passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act comes after a series of doping scandals and a rash of horse fatalities in recent years. More than two dozen people were charged last March in what authorities described as a widespread international scheme to drug horses to make them run faster.

The House approved the bill by voice vote in September, sending it to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell co-sponsored similar legislation. The measure was eventually folded into the larger spending package.

McConnell’s home state of Kentucky boasts some of the country’s top breeding farms and Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the fabled Triple Crown.

“Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserve to be protected. I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it,” he said in a statement.

The new law should “better protect every competitor and give each of them a fair shot at the winner’s circle,” McConnell said.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., co-sponsored the House bill with Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky.

“For six years now, I have worked in a bipartisan fashion with my friend and partner in this effort, Congressman Andy Barr, to reform this noble sport to ensure it can continue to provide good jobs and support economic vitality″ in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and other horse-racing communities, Tonko said in a statement.

The new law puts “the well-being of our horses and jockeys front and center, delivering common-sense medication reforms and track safety standards that will restore public trust and confidence,″ Tonko said. ”After this long race, I am delighted to see our legislation finally reach the winner’s circle.″

Drew Fleming, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, called the bill “the single most significant safety and integrity development in the history of Thoroughbred racing. This moment also demonstrates that great progress can be accomplished when the industry works together.″

Horse racing has long been woven into the fabric of American culture, Tonko said during House debate, citing storied names such as Secretariat and Man o’ War that “stir the imagination of racing fans” around the world. Racing also serves as a major economic driver in many parts of the country, including New York, California and other states.

Even so, the sport in recent years has seen “the devastating results that can occur when these equine athletes are pushed beyond their limits,″ Tonko said.

A patchwork of state medical and safety regulations that are uneven and often unenforced compound the problem, Tonko and other lawmakers said.

The newly passed bill would empower an independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority to set uniform, national standards for medication, track safety and testing of horses for performance-enhancing drugs.

The legislation is supported by a range of groups, including The Jockey Club, the New York Racing Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

“Passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is the biggest news for horses in Congress in half a century and will put the welfare of the horses at the center of the enterprise,″ said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action, an advocacy group. The bill also will ensure that the U.S. racing industry aligns with global standards, he said.

Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said an average of at least eight horses die at the races every week. “Congressional intervention is imperative to protect these magnificent animals,″ she said.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.