‘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 “For the first time, the sport will have a unified set of national safety and integrity standards to replace an outdated system that relied on patchwork regulation.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.”

Arabian Knight off Kentucky Derby trail; will return later

Matt Stone/Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Arabian Knight is off the Kentucky Derby trail.

Wagering has been suspended on the 3-year-old colt for the Derby’s future wager after owner Amr Zedan announced the decision. Arabian Knight was the second choice on the morning line behind favorite Forte for the May 6 race.

“Trainer Tim Yakteen wasn’t happy with his last work & we feel it’s in Arabian Knight’s best interest not to rush & allow him more time to develop,” Zedan tweeted. “We know he’s a superior talent & our plan is to point him toward a summer and fall campaign.”

Purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, Arabian Knight won his debut by 7 1/4 lengths at Keeneland last November. He made his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest at Oaklawn in January and won by 5 1/2 lengths.

Arabian Knight had his third workout at Santa Anita.

Tapit Trice wins Tampa Bay Derby, earns Kentucky Derby points

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tapit Trice rallied from last to win the $360,000 Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths and earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

Ridden by Luis Saez, Tapit Trice ran 1 1/16 miles 1:43.37. The 1-2 favorite in the field of 12 paid $3 to win. The 3-year-old colt earned 50 qualifying points, which places him in the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher extended his record for most wins in the Grade 3 race to six. He already has the early Kentucky Derby favorite in Forte, who won the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream last weekend.

Classic Car Wash was second and Classic Legacy was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.

Tapit Trice was making his stakes debut after winning two of three starts.

“Once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself,” Pletcher said. ”I loved the way he finished up. He relished the two turns, and the longer he goes, the better he’ll get.”