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McConnell proposes bill to combat doping in horse racing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate’s top Republican and a handful of senior lawmakers in both parties are making a late-session push for legislation to create national standards for the horse racing industry to prevent fatalities and discourage illegal medication practices.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose state is home to the country’s top breeding outfits and the Kentucky Derby, introduced the legislation with senior Democrats from California and New York, which also have race tracks and breeding operations.

The “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act” comes after the racing industry has been hit by a series of doping scandals and a rash of fatal breakdowns in recent years. It is also struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, with tracks like Churchill Downs holding races including last weekend’s Kentucky Derby — delayed from May — without spectators.

Several top trainers were charged earlier this year with illegally doping their horses with performance enhancing drugs, including Jason Servis, whose horse Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Derby but was disqualified for racing interference.

The legislation is aimed at empowering an independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority with federal recognition and enforcement power to set uniform standards for medication, track safety, and testing of horses for PEDs.

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“Unfortunately, the coronavirus isn’t thoroughbred racing’s only challenge. In recent years, tragedies on the track, medication scandals, and an inconsistent patchwork of regulations have cast clouds over the future,” McConnell said in a floor speech.

While blue blood racing organizations such as the Jockey Club and key racing circuits support the idea, McConnell has not attracted cosponsors from states like Florida, Louisiana, and New Jersey, where some of the sport’s scandals have occurred and where oversight is considered uneven at best.

“This will make thoroughbred racing as fair and as safe as possible,” McConnell said.

Also at issue is a series of horse fatalities in California in recent years, which has garnered the industry bad press and enemies like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The legislation faces an uphill road in the Senate, given the time crunch and potential opposition, but it sends a signal that lawmakers may tackle the issue next year. A companion House bill has sufficient cosponsors to demonstrate it would pass but it has not been slated for a vote.