By Bill Finley
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill that was expected to pass Monday includes a provision that calls for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. With the omnibus spending bill having received bipartisan support and with President Donald J. Trump expected to sign it, the legislation that would bring sweeping change to how the sport is regulated and policed appears to have cleared its final hurdle.
Congressional leaders announced Sunday night that they had reached a deal on the stimulus package that included the horse racing act. It was expected to be voted on by the House of Representatives some time Monday and would then go to the Senate, which could also vote on the bill Monday. Once the bill is signed by President Trump it will become a reality.
“It's a great day,” said Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), a longtime proponent of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. “It's going to save a sport, provide additional jobs and will be so respectful of the equine athletes, the jockeys and others who are involved. It begins and ends there. I am thrilled about it.”
The effort to increase attempts to end doping and to improve safety through legislation has been an on-going process that started at least six years ago and was spearheaded by Tonko (D-NY), whose district includes Saratoga, and Congressman Andy Barr (R-Ky), whose district includes Keeneland. However, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act appeared to be stalled until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) announced his support in a September press conference at Keeneland.
“It's a great day,” said Arthur Hancock, who, along with his wife Staci, has been fighting for industry reform for nearly 30 years and formed the Water Hays Oats Alliance. “It's hard to believe. I'm still sort of pinching myself that it is done. Leader McConnell of Kentucky has done a wonderful job and so has Andy Barr and Paul Tonko. Senator McConnell, they threw him the pass and he ran a 75-yard touchdown. I think now the horse business has a future. People will come to, hopefully, trust it again and have confidence in it. We're going to clean out the drugs and thugs.”
The House passed a stand-alone version of the Act shortly after McConnell voiced his support, but had to vote again because the legislation was now included in a different bill. The language covering the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act in the spending bill is virtually identical to the bill passed by the House of Representatives in September.
“The private, independent, self-regulatory, non-profit corporation, to be known as the 'Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority' is recognized for purposes of developing and implementing a horseracing anti-doping and medication control program and a racetrack safety program for covered horses, covered persons, and covered horseraces,” it reads.
“I think this will build great layers of integrity into the process, which is an important thing,” Tonko said. “There are many, many choices for sports fans these days. The sports fans are very discerning and if we are to provide a cleaner image, one that's safer and more respectful of the equine athlete, the jockeys and all the people involved in the sport, I think it will mean a great shot in the arm for the sport.”
The bill calls for a phase-in period, with the bill going into effect July 1, 2022, at which time the “Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority” will be in place and responsible for “developing and implementing a horseracing anti-doping end-medication program and a racetrack safety program for covered horses…”
The “Authority” will be governed by a nine-member Board which must be put in place prior to July 1, 2022. The Federal Trade Commission will have oversight of the Authority and the United States Anti-Doping Agency will be brought in to handle drug testing and enforcement.
Where the funding will come from to pay for USADA and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority remains somewhat unclear. The bill states that initial funding to establish the Authority and underwrite its operations shall be provided through loans obtained by the Authority.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act had picked up widespread support in the industry. The Jockey Club was the most visible and vocal group when it came to supporting reform measures through legislation, but was joined by the Breeders' Cup, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the New York Racing Association, Del Mar, The Stronach Group, as well as other influential racing organizations.