Sports

Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr joined leaders from the world of horse racing on Monday to announce steps aimed at revamping oversight of the industry.

During a press conference at Lexington’s Keeneland race track, McConnell unveiled plans to introduce the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. The legislation would set a national standard for safety and fairness protocols in the sport.

McConnell said recent scandals involving horse deaths and doping have put the racing industry and the 24,000 Kentuckians it employs at risk.  He said he decided to try to bring major players together to institute change after seeing an editorial that called for horse racing to be banned.

“If we wanted to preserve horse racing and its future, we needed to act,” McConnell said. “We owe it to the horses, we owe it to the jockeys, we owe it to the trainers, the breeders and fans to make thoroughbred racing as fair and as safe as possible.”

McConnell also announced the creation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. He said the independent, non-governmental organization, would be responsible for developing policies related to anti-doping, medication use and track conditions.

The Federal Trade Commission would oversee the authority, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency [USADA] would assist with enforcement of drug regulations. A majority of its nine-member board would be made up of independent members from outside the industry.

McConnell’s bill would give federal recognition to the authority and outline the scope of its jurisdiction. He said its establishment would allow for more uniformity and compliance with racing rules and standards across the country.

“Other national sports have independent governing bodies,” McConnell said. “We decided horse racing should, as well.”

Barr has previously introduced similar legislation in the House. While those have ultimately failed to progress, Barr said he’s found more support on both sides of the aisle each year.

By coordinating efforts with McConnell in the Senate, Barr believes the bill has a greater chance at success. He said he plans to introduce a “manager’s amendment” to his pre-existing bill so that it will be identical to McConnell’s.

“So if that bill comes from the Senate, it will enjoy a smoother ride in the House,” Barr said. “I’ll just note that over the course of the past three Congresses, because of our work, we’ve built a big bipartisan coalition.”

Churchill Downs has been a notable opponent of Barr’s bill. On Monday, however, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen threw his support behind the latest efforts.

Previous legislation focused on medication and anti-doping, and USADA would have made up a majority of the authority’s board membership. Now, the board will be independent and instead contract with USADA for enforcement.

Carstanjen said such changes drove the decision to support the bill.

“We were always on the same page from the perspective of something really needed to be done to take our sport forward into the future,” he said. “It was a question of how to do it, and how to ensure the longevity of what we do. Independence, clarity of governance, clarity of roles between those enforcing and administering the rules and regulations versus those that are creating the rules and regulations – all those detailed issues were all things that we talked about over the last few years.”

McConnell will introduce his bill in the Senate in September. He said that despite the “very partisan” environment in Washington, D.C., he plans to work with Democratic leaders in what he believes will be a bipartisan, non-controversial process.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.