House approves bill to combat doping in horse racing

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Jockey John Velazquez riding Authentic, wins the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

WASHINGTON – The House approved a bill Tuesday to create national medication and safety standards for the horse racing industry as lawmakers move to clamp down on use of performance-enhancing drugs that can lead to horse injuries and deaths.

The “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act” comes after a series of doping scandals and a rash of horse fatalities in recent years. More than two dozen people were charged in March in what authorities described as a widespread international scheme to drug horses to make them run faster.

Jason Servis, whose champion horse Maximum Security crossed the finish line first at the 2019 Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference, was among those charged.

The Democrat-controlled House approved the bill by voice vote, sending it to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has co-sponsored similar legislation. McConnell's home state of Kentucky boasts some of the country’s top breeding outfits and Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the fabled Triple Crown. Co-sponsors include senior Democrats from California and New York, which also have top racetracks and breeding operations.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., co-sponsored the House bill, calling it an overdue step to help restore public trust in the sport and "put it on a path to a long and vital future.''

"Horse racing has long been woven into the fabric of American culture,'' Tonko said during House debate, citing storied names such as Secretariat and Man o' War that “stir the imagination of racing fans” around the world.

Racing also serves as a major economic driver in many parts of the country, including New York, said Tonko, whose district includes the well-known Saratoga Race Course.

Even so, the sport in recent years has seen "the devastating results that can occur when these equine athletes are pushed beyond their limits,'' Tonko said.