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Fact vs. Fiction: Ending Race Horse Doping

April 5, 2012
  • The sport of horseracing showcases the beauty of an iconic American animal. But under the surface, a doping epidemic undermines the safety and integrity of the sport. Often drugged up with painkillers and performance-enhancing substances, race horses are pushed beyond their limits, leading to regular break downs with potentially severe or fatal consequences for both the horses and their riders. Twenty-four horses reportedly die each week at racetracks across America. 

    In 2011, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY-01) and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act to end doping in the sport of horseracing. 

    The bill:

    • Bans race day medication and racing horses under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs.
    • Requires stiff penalties for doping, including a "three strikes you're out" rule for multiple violations.
    • Requires drug testing of race horses by independent, accredited labs.

    But often when reformers try to end abuse in an industry, vested interests try to maintain the status quo with misleading claims. Yet the facts are clear - horseracing needs uniform rules to end doping and protect both the integrity of the game and the welfare of horses and jockeys.

    The facts on the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act:

    MYTH: Adequate rules and enforcement already exist to prevent doping in horseracing. 

    FACT: There are no uniform rules to prohibit performance-enhancing drugs and penalize doping violations in horseracing. Almost all American Thoroughbreds are injected with race day medication, a practice banned by almost all other countries. Trainers can violate medication rules multiple times, seemingly with impunity.


    MYTH: This bill would create a new federal bureaucracy to regulate horseracing.

    FACT: The Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act keeps the responsibility of enforcing new nationwide rules with state racing commissions. In the absence of adequate enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission could enforce doping violations and shut down off-track betting.


    MYTH: The federal government has no place in horseracing. 

    FACT: Federal law already regulates interstate or "simulcast" racing for Thoroughbred, Standardbred (harness), and Quarter horses. This bill applies only to interstate horseracing.


    MYTH: Horseracing groups can solve doping problems without federal legislation.

    FACT: Industry groups and state commissions have promised reform for decades. However, since horseracing lacks a national league or commissioner to set and enforce rules, amending the Interstate Horseracing Act is the only viable way to ensure safety and integrity.


    MYTH: The bill could eliminate use of beneficial drugs and veterinary care for race horses.

    FACT: Nothing in the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act prohibits a race horse from receiving therapeutic care or drugs. Horses should not race when needing such therapy and banning racing under the influence of drugs would ensure they do not.

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