‘Game changer’: Officials praise horse racing safety bill

Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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Horse racing officials and industry activists are hailing the passage and signing of a safety and integrity bill that will standardize medication and doping rules in an effort to make the sport safer and fairer.

The long sought-after legislation became was part of the spending bill that President Trump signed into law Sunday night. It is set to go into effect no later than July 1, 2022 since it passed before the end of this year.

The bill gives an independent panel authority to set uniform, national medication, drug and track safety standards to be enforced by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Racetracks that don’t take part won’t be allowed to take bets from out of state, and the rules will become part of the competition agreement for those who want to run horses.

“This is a monumental step forward that will help secure the future of thoroughbred racing in the United States,” New York Racing Association president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said. “For the first time, the sport will have a unified set of national safety and integrity standards to replace an outdated system that relied on patchwork regulation. … This legislation will further modernize horse racing and arrives at a critical juncture in its history.”

For decades, 38 different jurisdictions have been able to set their own rules, including varying limits on medication and how far out from a race certain drugs can be given. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 will make those things uniform across the board, with one aim to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“It’s the first time it’ll have a national program for both the anti-doping as well as racetrack safety,” U.S Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis T. Tygart said by phone Monday. “The ultimate goals of both of those is to ensure as safe and fair and drug-free of a sport as possibly can be.”

The bill is eight years in the making and gained further momentum after two major incidents. First there was a spike of racehorse deaths in California from 2019 into 2020. Then there were the March indictments of two high-profile trainers and more than two dozen others for taking part in a widespread international scheme to drug horses to make them race faster.

Animal Wellness Action executive director Marty Irby, who lobbied on behalf of the bill and testified before Congress in January, called it “the biggest gain for horses in half a century.” The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said it’s “historic legislation that will establish national standards to promote fairness and increase safety in thoroughbred racing nationwide.”

It will be up to the horse racing industry to figure out how to pay for new standardized testing and enforcement, but states already spend roughly $30 million annually in that department.

O’Rourke, whose state hosts over 200 days of live racing annually and the Belmont Stakes, expects the bill to provide the “strongest anti-doping authority the sport has ever seen” at a critical time.

“With the independent enforcement of uniform rules, I think it will be an absolute game changer for the sport if ultimately it’s put in place and run as effectively as it could be,” Tygart said. “We’re honored to be part of the solution.”

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”