May 05, 2017

Ahead of Kentucky Derby, Udall Demands an End to Doping of Race Horses

Special gambling laws and subsidies support horse racing, even as egregious doping abuse plagues the sport

WASHINGTON – Ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, U.S. Senator Tom Udall released the following statement reiterating his persistent calls for the horse racing industry to end its widespread abuse of performance-enhancing drugs and painkillers used on horses. Udall called for reform or the repeal of the federal law that makes horse racing the only sport specially permitted to offer online gambling and interstate betting:

“As long as we continue to reward the horse racing industry for its inhumane doping violations with sweetheart gambling privileges and millions in casino slots subsidies, these shameful abuses will continue. It is long past time for Congress to act to reform or repeal horse racing’s unique federal gambling law, to force the industry to look out for the safety of horses and jockeys, and to restore integrity to this once-dignified sport.

“This weekend, outside of the view of fans in the grandstand, horses competing in the Kentucky Derby will be injected before being loaded into the starting gate. As deaths and injuries pile up, it has become abundantly clear that there is no doping or corruption scandal outrageous enough to shame the horse racing industry into rooting out abuse. One harness trainer racked up more than 1,700 medication violations. Four track veterinarians — tasked with ensuring the health and safety of these animals – pled guilty to unlawfully and repeatedly administering performance enhancing drugs in Pennsylvania. No one caught giving racehorses dermorphin, a painkiller 40 times more powerful than morphine, has been permanently kicked out of the sport.

“New Mexico racetracks have some of the highest rates of horse fatalities and injuries in the country, yet the state has paid $682 million into horse racing purse prizes since 1999. Our state should not be subsidizing an industry that remains so shockingly indifferent to egregious doping abuses.

“A horse that needs to be injected to race should not be forced to compete. Unless we take meaningful action to insist upon real reform, Congress and the states that subsidize the horse racing industry will continue to be willful accomplices to the abuse of these iconic animals."

Chronic abuse of performance-enhancing drugs is commonplace in horseracing. Almost every horse is given race-day medication — banned in other countries — and no uniform medication rules or doping penalties exist across the states. As the New York Times reported in 2012, doping undermines the safety and viability of the sport, and 24 horses die each week from racing injuries — an alarming fatality rate likely caused by the misuse of permitted medication and abuse of illegal drugs.

Udall has fought for years to reform the horse racing industry. In 2015, Udall and former Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) introduced legislation to eliminate most wagering on horse racing to encourage the sport to end doping and crack down on cheaters.