The U.S. House has just voted to protect racehorses from dangerous but widespread practices within the racing industry, including the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs and poor attention to racetrack safety.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (H.R.1754), led by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., passed the full House with a voice vote this afternoon. It now heads to the Senate where Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have introduced S. 4547, which was mirrored by the House bill.

This legislation tackles some of the key reasons behind the growing numbers of racehorse deaths in recent years, including the rampant doping of these animals with performance-enhancing drugs and painkillers that mask pain in order to allow injured horses to train or race. If this bill becomes law, racehorses would only be allowed to compete if they are free from such drugs.

The bill would also establish the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, a private and independent organization that would be responsible for implementing anti-doping medication and racetrack safety programs. The drug control program would be enforced by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the entity appointed to handle drug testing for all U.S. Olympic athletes.

The authority would also be responsible for:

  • Implementing, publishing and enforcing uniform rules regarding drugs and medications administered to thoroughbred racehorses;
  • Establishing uniform and consistent punishments for cheaters who violate the rules and risk racehorses’ safety; and
  • Establishing uniform racetrack safety regulations, including more oversight of racetrack surfaces.

Momentum for such reform has increased in recent years, partly because of a string of horse deaths on racetracks and the indictments earlier this year of trainers and veterinarians in a doping scandal. These developments have spurred calls for reform from within the industry. The bill is endorsed by Churchill Downs Incorporated (the Louisville-based operator of the Kentucky Derby), The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and a number of trainers, among others.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund have supported horse racing reform for years, and we have been hard at work to ensure that horses get the protections they deserve. We provided recommendations on the original Horseracing Integrity Act that was reintroduced last year, helped build a strong showing of bipartisan cosponsors, worked with House subcommittee chairwoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to ensure a compelling hearing on this legislation in January, worked with Sen. McConnell to strengthen his bill and mitigate any unwanted consequences before he introduced it earlier this month, and then worked with House members to ensure that their version aligned with the improved Senate bill, thereby boosting chances that horse racing reform will become law this year.

According to The Jockey Club, an average of 8.5 horses died during races every week in 2019, and this does not include deaths during training. This is an animal protection crisis, and we commend House members for their swift and decisive vote to end it. Next, we urge you to join us in ensuring that the commonsense reforms in this bill become law. Please contact your Senators and ask them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, S. 4547, so racehorses do not continue to suffer silently at the hands of greedy trainers who value winning over the animals’ safety and welfare.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.