Tonko horse-racing bill closer to becoming law

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Categories: News, Saratoga County, Sports

SARATOGA COUNTY — A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, that would bring the first national regulations to thoroughbred horse racing is moving closer to becoming law.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday approved the proposed Horse-racing Integrity and Safety Act in a 46-5 vote, sending the bill for final action by the House of Representatives. Tonko on Thursday said that he hopes to see a floor vote before the end of the month, which would culminate a six-year effort to try to bring nationally consistent regulations banning race-day drugs and addressing other issues.

“Horse-racing fans are very discerning, you know, they’ve got a lot of options, so if they don’t think the sport is clean as a whistle, they move on,” he said. “This is good, it addresses the safety of the equine athlete and the jockey, and the safety of the track.”

The committee vote comes a week after the proposal got a major boost when it was endorsed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, virtually guaranteeing it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate as well as the Democrat-controlled House.

Tonko has co-led the House effort, along with U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky. He first introduced the legislation in 2015. In 2019, he started a new push for the legislation, holding a press conference outside Saratoga Race Course to promote the bill.

“I am encouraged,” Tonko said at a drive-thru senior citizen picnic in Ballston Spa. “It has been through a lot of iterations over the years, a lot of input from stakeholders through the years, and I believe we ended up with an independence to the structure so that it will build the integrity of the sport.”

The proposed law would develop and implement uniform national horse-racing medication and racetrack safety standards. Until now, horse racing has been regulated separately by the individual states that allow it. It would ban race-day medications for all thoroughbreds, and set up an independent commission to make recommendations on issues like the use of equine medications, which some people regard as performance-enhancing drugs during training.

Amends proposed by the Senate and added to the House bill address issues of racing surface standards and other track-safety issues.

“Our bill delivers common sense medication and track safety standards that protect America’s horses and jockeys, needed progress that will put this popular and historic sport on track for a strong recovery and a bright future,” Tonko said in a released statement after the committee vote. “Horse racing is more than the sport of kings, it also supports countless jobs and drivers vital economic activity in communities all across America.”

Thoroughbred racing generates about $15.6 billion in economic activity nationally and more than $3 billion in New York state, according to a 2019 estimate, but the industry has faced scrutiny due to the number of horses who die or suffer fatal injuries during racing and training.

New York and Kentucky are among the states where the racing industry is most prominent. Both states have famed race tracks like Saratoga Race Course, Belmont and Churchill Downs. Both are homes to major thoroughbred breeding operations and farms that support the racing industry.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, the only Republican in the Capital Region congressional delegation, said she will support the measure when it comes to a floor vote.

“I co-sponsored in the past and I will be voting in support of it,” she said. “It’s important for our Saratoga County region, for the horse-racing industry, and for the health of the horses. It’s something we have worked on for a number of years as part of the Horse Caucus.”

 If it passes both the House and Senate, the bill will still need President Donald Trump’s signature before becoming law.

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