Spotlight on Drug Use in Horse Racing Industry

Drug use in the horse racing industry has long been a contentious issue with animal welfare organizations, as horses are believed to be given chemicals to mask pain, prevent bleeding and/or to enhance performance…

Recently Pennsylvania congressman Joe Pitts (R-pa 16th) called for a series of national reforms to address these issues, referring to the American racing industry as "an embarrassment to the rest of the world" which has a "zero tolerance of race-day medication."

Cited as the "Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013" the proposed bill specifies that there should be an independent anti-doping organization to ensure the integrity and safety of horseracing events. If passed, the bill would designate the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the independent organization to take on this responsibility. As a non-profit, non-governmental organization, the USADA currently oversees anti-doping programs for US Olympic, Paralympic, Pan-American and ParaPan American sport. However, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Philip Hanrahan, who testified against implementation of the bill, expressed doubts that the USADA would have the experience or resources to oversee horse racing. He also reportedly stated that the NHBPA was opposed to the enactment of the bill "because it attempts to address a problem that does not exist".

Following a lengthy undercover operation, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has filed ten complaints against top trainer Steve Asmussen and others working with him, backing allegations of abuse and misuse of drugs with video footage. This has resulted in the New York Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New Mexico Racing Commission undertaking to investigate the allegations. Moreover, Asmussen has been removed from the list of candidates for induction into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame's Class of 2014. Although the exposé focuses on Asmussen and those associated with him, it is alleged that this is indicative of behaviour in the US horse racing industry at large. No doubt animal welfare organizations, as well as those in the horse racing industry who have the welfare of equine athletes at heart, will be watching with interest as the results of investigations are made known.

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