The first-ever federal legislation mandating national medication oversight in horse racing is set to become law. It was several years in the making—and it started with a PETA undercover investigation.
The federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act has just passed. The bill includes federal oversight, anti-doping measures, regulations on medications, mandatory drug testing, and new safety procedures.
This huge progress all started with our unprecedented investigation into the activities of one of the industry’s top trainers, Steve Asmussen, covered in 2014 by The New York Times. Our exposé sent shockwaves through the industry, resulting in numerous citations and fines.
Horses train and race so pumped full of drugs that they’ll sprint despite their bleeding lungs or cracking bones. Pushed beyond the point of exhaustion, their limbs snap, the sound of which is louder than a gunshot. Many horses—more than three every day—die right on the track.
New York officials passed “sweeping new regulations” to curb the drug culture in horse racing after our investigation hit the media, and The Jockey Club, which registers all Thoroughbred foals destined for racing, vowed to introduce federal legislation to clean up drugging in the industry. It made good on its promise by working with legislators to introduce the Horseracing Integrity Act. This bill morphed into the current Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.
What did PETA find while investigating doping in horse racing?
PETA’s investigator worked for the infamous Asmussen and, for the first time ever, captured on camera the aggressive, daily regimen of pain-masking drugs and treatments that trainers administered to horses:
- Trainers dumped thyroxine into many, if not all, of the horses’ feed in Asmussen’s New York stable. This drug was recklessly administered apparently just to speed up metabolism—not because any of the horses had thyroid problems.
- Lasix—a controversial drug now restricted at major tracks—was injected into “basically all” of Asmussen’s horses who were being raced or timed in New York.A powerful drug meant to prevent pulmonary bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, Lasix is a diuretic that can serve as a masking agent for other drugs and also dehydrates horses to make them lose weight and run faster. One of New York state’s top horse racing veterinarians admitted on camera to PETA’s investigator that Lasix is a performance-enhancing medication.
- Trainers administered horses a daily cocktail of painkillers, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other potent pharmaceuticalsto be used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness, and inflammation, even when the animals had no apparent symptoms.
This legislation won’t solve all of racing’s problems, and it must be implemented with the horses’ interests first. We’ll continue to watch—and speak out—for horses abused in racing.
Horses are intelligent, sensitive animals who feel joy, pain, fear, and all the other emotions that we do. In no world would these complex individuals choose to run themselves to death for human entertainment.
PETA thanks everyone who has ever signed a petition, held a sign in protest outside a racetrack, or contacted a legislator to help get this historic act passed. We can only advance animal liberation with the support of dedicated activists like you!