The authority will help set industry-wide standards for medication use, track surfaces and other safety standards to protect thoroughbreds and their riders and ensure the sport's integrity.
The long-discussed initiative will be backed by federal legislation to be introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican said the horse racing industry “deserves uniform standards and guidelines that will help protect this sport."
The legislation will provide federal recognition and enforcement power for the new Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority to develop uniform, baseline standards for the industry.
“If we want to preserve horse racing and its future, we needed to act," McConnell said at a news conference at Keeneland in the heart of Kentucky's horse industry. “We owe it to the horses. We owe it to the jockeys. We owe it to the trainers, the breeders and fans to make thoroughbred racing as fair and as safe as possible."
Horse racing has been hobbled by schemes to drug horses to make them race faster and by horse deaths. Santa Anita racetrack in California has been rattled by a number of deaths when horses broke down.
Unlike other professional sports with central league offices, thoroughbred racing is regulated at the state level, resulting in a patchwork of rules on medication standards and testing protocols.
“Simply put, it is an inefficient system," said Drew Fleming, president and CEO of Breeders’ Cup Limited. “Our industry needs uniform standards and protocols that are consistently enforced to make sure that integrity and equine safety are top priorities for every track, every horseman in every race.”
The authority will be an independent, non-governmental regulatory body that will bring more transparency to the inner-workings of horse racing, industry leaders said.
The initiative aims to create accountability so “our fans and industry participants can be certain of the safety and integrity of our great sport,” said Churchill Downs Inc. CEO William C. Carstanjen.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican who has pushed for horse racing industry reform legislation for several years, said the sport’s prosperity depends on uniform racing rules.
The new authority, backed by the federal legislation, will create uniform standards to determine what substances can and can’t be given to thoroughbreds, will establish an accreditation system for labs to test drug samples and will develop standards for racetrack safety, he said.
“This legislative effort is not about more regulation," Barr said. “It is about creating a single, nationwide set of rules that will result in smarter, more effective and streamlined regulation for the industry.”
The initiative, backed by the legislation, will help bring “integrity back to American horseracing by banning race-day doping,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action.
The authority will create a set of uniform anti-doping rules, including lists of prohibited substances, the animal rights group said. The authority also will create a racetrack safety program, including a uniform set of training and racing safety standards, it said. Those standards include racetrack design and maintenance, oversight of human and equine injury reporting and prevention, and procedures to investigate safety violations, it said.
Governing the authority will be an independent board chosen by people from business, sports and academic circles, said William “Bill” M. Lear Jr., vice chairman of The Jockey Club. The majority of board members will come from outside the equine industry, he said.
Some members will be selected based on recommendations from racing industry groups, he said.
“None (of those members) will have current involvement -- therefore no conflicts," Lear said. “Nothing to gain or lose by the rules considered and the rules adopted.”