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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Edited Release — Animal rights activists are praising a portion of the $900 billion stimulus package. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was part of the bill signed into law late last month.

Louisville television station WLKY talked with one animal welfare advocate who’s been working on the legislation for the last six years. Marty Irby, the executive director at Animal Action Wellness in Washington, D.C., says, “I think it’s the greatest step forward for the welfare of the horse in American horse racing in a century.”

Irby explains, “This creates a uniform national standard for drug testing, enforcement and penalties under United States Antidoping Agency.” He credits lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Sen. McConnell really stepped up and saw that horse racing was in trouble. The Washington Post issued an editorial basically saying that horse racing had outlived its time, and he has said publicly he realized that was a tremendous statement that they made.”

He says McConnell convinced longtime holdout Churchill Downs to get on board with the legislation which not only bans race-day doping but requires safety standards and streamlines the reporting of deaths and injuries across the country.

“We really predict that there will be fewer deaths,” he says, “We really hope there are going to be no deaths, but adding this component of track safety and reporting requirements allow people to see what’s going on and decide whether they should take their horse to that track or not.”

Irby calls it a win for animal welfare. He says one of the most common drugs utilized in the industry right now is the diuretic called Lasix which causes a horse to quickly shed excess water weight. He says that can ultimately lead to brittle bones and microfractures.

The new law, which takes effect in mid-2022, will ban the use of Lasix and all other race-day drugs.

Irby says much of the confusion came from different rules from state to state. These new regulations streamline everything, including penalties, and he believes it not only benefits the horse but the future of the thoroughbred industry.

“I don’t know that I ever would’ve said this in the past, but I think the greatest champion for animal welfare in Congress in 2020 was Mitch McConnell so we applaud him for his work and all of the democrats who supported him.”

The Animal Wellness Action group says they’re not stopping here. Next, they hope to eliminate the use of the whip in horseracing.

“In 2019 the Jockey Club came out against the whip and we’re seeing many jockeys who’ve been practicing for decades come out against the whip,” Irby says, “and ultimately if you talk to those who are really versed in equine behavioral and science, they’ll tell you that a whip actually makes a horse run slower.”

Animal Wellness Action set a goal to phase-out the usage of the whip in the next five years.

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