In the public arena, discourse regarding the horse racing industry is fettered with conversations about equine safety. That concern has even grabbed the attention of members of the United States Congress.
Sixteen members of the US House of Representatives requested that regulators make reports on recent horse fatalities public. A letter to that effect also asks the governing body for more insight into its strategy for making horse racing safer.
Representatives request publication of horse necropsies
The group of 16 representatives sent a letter to Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) Chief Executive Officer Lisa Lazarus on May 18. In the letter, the representatives expressed their concern regarding recent deaths in the sport of racing.
“While we recognize the strides made to prevent racing fatalities, the American public is understandably alarmed by the risks to animal welfare demonstrated on the world stage in the lead up to the Kentucky Derby.”
The letter continues to “request that the results of the necropsies and a comprehensive report be made public to provide transparency and exemplify your commitment to the integrity of the sport.” The representatives also stated that they “urge careful review of each horse’s medical records to ascertain whether any preexisting conditions contributed to any of the injuries.”
Caleb Wiegandt of the Louisville Courier Journal reports that nine horses have sustained fatal injuries during races at Churchill Downs alone since April 27. As the letter points out, that track is not isolated in this regard.
In fact, the Pimlico Race Course saw a similar incident in a race leading up to the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. The letter does not specify exactly which necropsy reports the Congress members want HISA to publicize. It does ask for additional context around those reports, though.
Could this be a precursor to more federal oversight?
The letter further requests HISA’s response to deeper inquiries. The questions the letter poses are:
- What steps is HISA considering taking to prevent future horseracing deaths, including in its enforcement of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act?
- Is HISA planning to expand its investigation to consider a holistic perspective which examines how breeding techniques, equine medicine, and training practices contribute to horseracing deaths?
The letter establishes a deadline of 60 days from receipt for HISA to provide some kind of update. It also requests “that you keep us [the undersigned representatives] apprised of any review of safety measures and what reforms can be instituted to prevent a similar situation in the future.”
It’s unclear what if anything further could result from this inquiry. HISA’s authority over the sport is still legally fraught as lawsuits are pending. Also, some state regulatory bodies have taken action to block HISA oversight. That means HISA’s ability to affect any further reforms is currently limited.
Right now, the representatives are merely asking for more information. If that doesn’t satisfy them, further legislation could be forthcoming. However, these incidents are exactly what Congress intended to prevent when it enacted the law creating HISA in 2020.
This could be the beginning of Congress deciding that a different approach is necessary.