The Horseracing Integrity Act speciously suggests that all that stands between horseracing and integrity is a national drug program overseen by a central organization. First, drugs in racing is a divisive topic within the industry. In a recent Cronkite News article, Dr. Verlin Jones, a track vet with 30 years experience, says:
“Right now in Arizona we have probably mid-level to low-level claimers. That population of horses comes with their own set of problems, so we deal with horses that have a higher level of injury… I think that right now these private practitioners on the back side, their hands are really, really handcuffed. When you’re dealing with this level of horse, they have a lot of problems. Those problems can be taken care of, but we have to have our full arsenal in order to do that.” Then this: “I really feel like horses today are having to run in more pain. More pain leads to muscle fatigue, muscle fatigue leads to bone fatigue, bone fatigue leads to catastrophic breakdowns.”
In other words, less drugs may mean more dead horses, at least at the more pedestrian tracks – which is to say, the majority of tracks.
In addition, the bill would ban raceday medication, more specifically Lasix. Many within racing believe that Lasix is therapeutic, as it purportedly controls pulmonary bleeding in fast-moving racehorses. In a Louisville Courier Journal article from April, renowned trainer Dale Romans says, “I like facts, and the facts are that we’ve been using [Lasix] and it doesn’t hurt horses.” Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, added, “I would hope the industry stakeholders understand the ban on the use of furosemide…will not prevent horses from suffering catastrophic injuries, and in fact, could cause further harm and should not be seen as a safety reform.”
But more to the point is what the Horseracing Integrity Act does not, because it cannot, address: The inherent cruelty and inevitable deadliness of horseracing. On the former, in addition to being torn from their mothers as mere babes, being bought and sold like common Amazon products, and subjected to lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and whips, racehorses – innately social and mobile animals – are kept locked, alone, in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day. They are kept thus because as costly assets their owners are loath to risk injury in a more natural (humane) setting.
As to the killing, and contrary to what the reformers would have you believe, death at the track is, has always been, and always will be a built-in part of the system: From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs, fragile ankles); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until 6; the typical racehorse begins intensive training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to “race” at an unnatural rate (breakneck) through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans); to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold several times over the course of his “career,” making his long-term well-being of no concern to his current people) – horseracing guarantees a certain level of killing. Guarantees.
In the final analysis, the only thing the HIA (or any other “reformist” legislation that may arise) would do is give Racing a desperately needed PR win, which, in turn, would likely help reverse its currently-declining fortunes – which, in turn, would condemn countless more horses to lives of abuse and premature, often gruesome, deaths.