It was easy to miss amid all that is happening in this country these days, but 2020 ended on a positive note for America’s racehorses.
In fact, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), a provision of the 2021 omnibus spending package passed by Congress before Christmas and signed by the President last week, has the potential to transform American horse racing. The law addresses tandem problems that have plagued the sport for more than three decades—the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs and the increase in the number of fatal injuries sustained by racehorses each year.
Previous efforts to tackle these issues have been hampered by industry opposition and the patchwork of regulatory entities that have governed racing across 38 jurisdictions. But thanks to a coalition of animal protection groups, racehorse owners and track operators, along with The Jockey Club and other racing organizations, HISA garnered bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
Under the new law, an independent anti-doping authority will be created to set national standards for drug testing and enforcement. And race-day medication will be prohibited—the standard in most other countries. In addition, HISA calls for the establishment of an accreditation program to ensure that all U.S. racetracks conform to national safety and maintenance standards.
Taken together, these measures can reverse several troubling trends in American racing. Although breakdowns have always been an unfortunate reality of sport, they have been the focus of increasing scrutiny in recent years. Fatal injuries sustained in Triple Crown and Breeders Cup races have horrified and disgusted the general public. And most recently, a spate of 23 racehorse fatalities over a three-month period at California’s Santa Anita racetrack boosted efforts to actually ban the sport.
Obviously the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act won’t immediately solve all of the problems plaguing American horse racing. But it is surely a step in the right direction. And everyone who appreciates the magical creatures upon which the sport depends will be hoping that the new law will make life safer and more comfortable for America's race horses and those who work with them.