Congressional hearing
From left: Craig Fravel, Eric Hamelback, Bobby Flay, Joe De Francis, Chauncey Morris at a Congressional hearing.

An omnibus year-end bill to provide Covid-19 relief and fund the operations of the United States government will also kick off a major change in horse racing drug rules and regulations.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in September, was incorporated into the sprawling legislation, which checks in at nearly 5,600 pages. The bill passed both houses of Congress Monday and is now en route to President Trump for his signature.

HISA would create an independent, nine-member Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. That body would address medication use, track conditions, and other safety standards for the well-being of horses and riders. It would contract with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to enforce medication rules.

“Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserve to be protected. I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it,” said Senator McConnellin a release. “With the leadership of Congressman Andy Barr and the partnership of sport leaders, horse advocates, and fans, we’re one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across Thoroughbred racing. As Majority Leader, I made this Kentucky-focused legislation a top priority in the Senate. I look forward to this major advancement for our beloved sport becoming law.”

For some racing interests, the passage of the legislation represents the culmination of a yearslong battle to nationalize racing’s fragmented drug rules. Those rules now are the province of the three dozen or so state racing commissions that oversee the sport on a state-by-state basis. And while the sport has made considerable progress in the direction of uniformity over the last several years, the new bill will speed up the process.

“I’d like to thank Senate Majority Leader McConnell for diligently focusing on getting this much-needed bill included in the must-pass Omnibus Appropriations Bill,” said Stuart S. Janney, III, Chairman of The Jockey Club. “Leader McConnell has been a powerful force when it comes to promoting and supporting the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky and throughout the nation. With the passage of this bill, we restore confidence with our fans that the competition is clean, the game is fair and the horse and rider are protected.”

The grassroots organization Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) agreed.

“This is the day that the members of the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) have long been waiting for,” said Staci Hancock, Managing Member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance. “Since 2012 our grassroots movement has supported the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horseracing.”

Not everyone in racing is quite so sanguine about the legislation, however. Many horsemen fear further federal intervention in the sport as a matter of principle. What’s more, the virtual certainty that the bill will lead to a ban on the use of furosemide (Lasix), the anti-bleeding medication many trainers believe essential to the health of their horses and of the sport, has led many to oppose the federal bills.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), which says it represents approximately 29,000 owners and trainers nationwide, came out in opposition to HISA early on.

The group cited three primary reasons for its opposition: the ban on Lasix; the composition of the regulatory authority, which includes a majority with no racing experience; and that “the legislation will be paid for on the backs of our membership” since no federal dollars are authorized.

“Senator McConnell also announced his legislation was a compromise within the industry, but that is far from the truth,” the HBPA said in a statement at the time.

The newly passed legislation also extends three-year tax depreciation for all racehorses through 2021.