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A Push to Improve Welfare of Horse Racing’s Involuntary Heroes
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 RSS Feeds

Last year at this time, the thoroughbred horse racing community and casual racing fans alike were riding the high of a milestone: American Pharoah had won the Belmont Stakes to become the first horse in 37 years to complete the Triple Crown.

A year later, without the distraction of a Triple Crown or even a rematch between this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist, and Exaggerator, the Preakness winner, the racing industry has had to look in the mirror. What it sees is still not pretty. The systemic problems that existed before the Triple Crown have not gone away. Horses are still dropping dead on the track as unscrupulous trainers, under pressure to produce, continue to administer harmful drugs, threatening the sport’s already fragile credibility.

“There has to be a correction,” said Wayne Pacelle, the chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States.

Pacelle and I have spoken over the years about animal welfare and animal cruelty. In his recent book “The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers are Transforming the Lives of Animals,” Pacelle argues that businesses that do not adjust to consumer concerns about the treatment of animals are doomed.

“If a business is engaged in some sort of animal cruelty or animal mistreatment, it’s eventually going to catch up to them,” he said.

Some are starting to pay attention. Ringling Brothers retired its elephant herd last month after having had the animals as part of its traveling circus act for nearly 150 years. In March, SeaWorld announced that it would stop breeding orcas.

“The two biggest brand names have phased out or are phasing out the use of animals that are the center of their brands because of the animal welfare concerns,” Pacelle said. “Everything is changing, yet horse racing is still resisting reform. There has to be a correction.”

But thanks in part to social media, the casual fan, who tends to care about horse racing only in April, May and June (around the time of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont), is taking an active interest in how equine athletes are treated. Their concerns — along with the specter of death at the track, of still too many breakdowns, of widespread doping — are also compelling some forces within the industry to take steps toward real reform, beginning with doping.

The powerful Jockey Club is working with the Humane Society to eliminate the scourge of doping and, in the process, get the fragmented racing industry to play by a single set of rules.

The two groups are supporting federal legislation, the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Anti-Doping Act of 2015, that would put the United States Anti-Doping Agency in charge of monitoring the administration of race-day medication at the track. The organizations hope to put Usada, an independent agency, in a position to police the sport’s deeply rooted doping culture.

Race-day doping is particularly troublesome. It can give horses an advantage, but it can also put already injured horses, who should not be racing, at risk of greater, even catastrophic, injury.

“It won’t solve everything, but doping is the most insidious of the practices in racing,” Pacelle said. “It is Exhibit No. 1 for the idea that people are more concerned with winning than they are with the protection and welfare of the horses.”

The Jockey Club has taken polls over the last five years that show convincingly that racing fans are paying attention to aspects of the sport beyond simply wagering.

They are concerned, said Jim Gagliano, the chief executive of the Jockey Club, with matters of “animal welfare and the fairness and integrity of competition.”

He added: “Those are very high among our current fans and potential new fans. It is good business for racing.”

There are many contentious issues in the sport: breeding horses for speed, for example, not endurance; sending poor and underperforming horses to slaughter. But this legislation is just about doping.

“You have to start somewhere,” Pacelle said.

The support from the Jockey Club, which, made up as it is of owners and breeders, is the closest thing racing has to central leadership, is an acknowledgment that the regulatory system in place to police doping could be substantially improved by Usada’s oversight.

For a sport that plays by 38 different sets of rules corresponding to the 38 racing commissions nationwide, a universal set of doping regulations would be a major accomplishment.

“There’s a collective recognition that the system that’s in place, and has been in place for a long time, hasn’t been adequate, hasn’t been nimble enough, hasn’t been uniform across all the racing states,” Gagliano said.

Pacelle and Gagliano will no doubt face fierce opposition from within racing.

Some of the sport’s stakeholders don’t want to reboot the process and surrender ome of their autonomy.

“Change is always hard for some to contemplate,” Gagliano said. “Others feel this is going to require a federal act, and they oppose federal intervention in our sport.”

But if horses keep dying on the track, breaking down and being exploited by race-day doping, the sport could find itself up to its neck in federal intervention, and deservedly so.

The larger issue — the only issue, really — is the care of the animals.

We write quite a bit about the danger of participating in high-risk sports and recreational pursuits. Human beings take risks, whether we’re jumping out of planes, climbing mountains, playing football or boxing. We go into them, more or less, with our eyes open. But race horses are involuntary participants in a tough sport; they need protection now more than ever.

Bringing Usada into thoroughbred racing is the best idea in the sport in decades.

“We’re not unlike any other sport,” Gagliano said, “except we’ve got a competitor — the horse — whose responsibility and welfare is really entrusted to us.”

From Eight Belles, who died at the end of the Kentucky Derby in 2008, to scores of others that died more anonymous, inglorious deaths on the track, the industry has abused its horses and the trust of its fans.

With this legislation, racing can take a small step toward winning it back.

Courtesy of The New York Times

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The CBA works democratically on behalf of every consignor and commercial breeder, large and small, to provide representation and a constructive, unified voice related to sales issues, policies, and procedures. The Association’s initiatives are designed to encourage a fair and expanding market place for all who breed, buy, or sell thoroughbreds.