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Legislation would enhance equine welfare, integrity of horse racing

By: Penny Chenery
January 6, 2016 Updated: January 6, 2016 at 4:25 am
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It took me a long time to fully appreciate one of the benefits of owning a Triple Crown winner. All at once, you become a public figure and inherit a platform from which you can make your voice heard.

When Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes on June 9, 1973, to become thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, I had no idea of the opportunities it would provide for the ensuing 42 years. I have spoken up on various issues in thoroughbred racing, always with the best interest of the sport in mind. This is one of those times.

Our sport recently received a healthy dose of positive publicity, thanks to the exceptionally talented American Pharoah. (And, yes, I was rooting for him to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.)

But we have practices that compromise equine welfare and the integrity of the sport. Rules can vary greatly from state to state, and drug-testing labs in one state find substances that drug labs in other states do not. We lack reciprocity. When a trainer is penalized in one state, he is still free to race horses in another state. And importantly, penalties in many states amount to the proverbial slap on the wrist. They are looked upon in some quarters as just the cost of doing business and not a deterrent.

The abuse of therapeutic drugs and the use of illegal drugs are not new issues for horse racing. In May 1982, I was invited to speak at a U.S. Senate hearing on a proposed piece of legislation calling for pre-race testing of all horses and a ban on all race day drugs, and I used that platform, over 30 years ago, to explain, "What I am for - what every thoroughbred breeder in America is striving to do since Bull Rock was imported in 1730 - is to breed sound horses that race on courage."

At that time, some states were taking steps to reform their medication policies; others lagged behind in their commitment to medication- free racing. I felt we were moving in the right direction. Sadly, time has proved me wrong. The National Uniform Medication Program - a voluntary protocol featuring a list of controlled therapeutic medications, standardized drug testing labs and uniform penalties - has been fully adopted by only nine of 38 jurisdictions. Breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and horses should be competing on a level playing field if we hope to attract new fans and retain current fans.

Today, I firmly believe that the time for federal legislation of our sport has come. And I am glad to know that a recently proposed piece of legislation would not require additional taxes or be paid for by those who wager on our sport. The horse racing industry would absorb the cost, as it must. The Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (HR 3084), introduced by Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., in June, would encourage the adoption of a national uniform standard for drugs and medication in American thoroughbred racing and grant rule-making, testing and enforcement oversight to an entity created by the U.S. Anti- Doping Agency, headquartered in Colorado Springs.

Every competitor and everyone betting on a race - from Arapahoe to Zia Park or anywhere else in this country - would be getting a fair shake if this legislation becomes law. It would undoubtedly enhance the welfare of our equine athletes and the integrity of our sport. I am not alone in my support for this bill. Several racing organizations, including Arapahoe, have formed an advocacy group known as the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, or CHRI, to encourage the adoption of this legislation.

The 1970s are often referred to as "the glory days" in horse racing because Seattle Slew and Affirmed followed in Secretariat's footsteps by winning the Triple Crown in 1977 and 1978. But even another succession of Triple Crown winners would not return this sport to the glory days. We need to reform our medication policies. We need uniformity. We need passage of HR 3084.

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Helen "Penny" Chenery, a Boulder resident, campaigned the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat. Additional information is available at secretariat.com.

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