Running For Their Lives

Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 4:00pm

"It's hard to watch these poor animals running for their lives for people who could really care less if they live," said Dr. Margaret Ohlinger, a track veterinarian at Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack in upstate New York.
 – New York Times, March 25, 2012

We've known for a long time that the horse racing industry is in serious need of reform. For horses who do not win, auction and slaughter for human consumption overseas has been an all too easy outlet for an industry obsessed with the pursuit of cash winnings at all costs. The ASPCA has focused on passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, but last year, we met with the authors of the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act and heard about the rampant use of drugs to mask pain in racehorses, so we endorsed their legislation to curb this abuse.

This past Sunday's edition of The New York Times provided a disturbing reminder of how very necessary and overdue this legislation is. The Times published a shocking exposé, "Death and Disarray at America's Racetracks," documenting its investigation into racehorse doping and the sharp rise in deaths and injuries to horses and riders.

The article details the rampant use of drugs—how "trainers experiment with anything that might give them an edge, including chemicals that bulk up pigs and cattle before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs." The result? The catastrophic deaths of thousands of racehorses. Horses pushed beyond their limits by steroids, stimulants or pain-killing drugs that enabled them to run through injuries up to the point of collapse. 

Though the horse racing industry has long promised to restrict the use of performance-enhancing drugs, such voluntary measures have been largely ignored. The worst offenders can easily circumvent the current patchwork of state horse commission rules by moving their operations. Lax or nonexistent oversight allows, and encourages, the use of any means possible—even cruel, life-threatening means—to win races.

"How on earth did we get to this sorry state?" Mr. Strawbridge [prominent breeder and owner] said. "The first reason is that in this country there are no significant consequences for doping horses."

Self-regulation by local horse racing commissions has failed to protect horses and jockeys from rampant drug use. And, the tragic toll on horses and riders is exacerbated at "racinos" (casinos with horse tracks) where there appears to be an even greater disregard for safety.

H.R. 1733/S. 886, introduced by Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Ben Chandler (D-KY) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), would prohibit racing any horse found to be under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs and institute a "three strikes" penalty system.

Take Action
Please take action now and ask that your U.S. representative and senators cosponsor the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act. You can contact your Members of Congress at the ASPCA Online Advocacy Center. Until a federal ban on performance-enhancing drugs in racehorses is the law of the land, the lives of thousands more horses and jockeys will be at risk.