Published with permission by Rutgers student Rita Baorto, who submitted this paper for “Animal and the Law,” a class I taught during the Spring semester, 2016.


Injuries and Related Drug Use on the Track-Part 1

Horse racing has been a part of the culture of the United States, and the world, for over a hundred years. Whether people follow it religiously all year, or only watch the Triple Crown, horse racing is an integral part of American lives. Especially this year, with the first winner of the Triple Crown since 1978, eyes have turned to the horse racing industry with renewed focus. Even though no one can deny that American Pharaoh lives the life any horse would dream of, many race horses are not so lucky. Irresponsible breeders saturating the market with unwanted horses, disguising injuries on the track, as well as starting horses too early, all contribute to the flaws within the racing industry. One of the most critiqued problems on the race track is the number and type of injuries that occur, as well as related drug use. The use of both performance enhancing and pain disguising drugs in racehorses often leads to increased injuries and death on the racetrack, despite the laws and regulations put in place to discourage that use.


The act of testing the speed of two or more horses against each other, while wagering bets on which one was faster, has been in existence for thousands of years. In the Roman Empire, chariot racing was an extremely prominent pastime.[1] In the United States, while horse-racing occurred since colonial times, it did not become extremely popular until after the civil war.1 Naturally, as large amounts of money started to be shuffled back and forth with both wagering and the buying and selling of horses, regulations needed to be put in place.

Federal Legal Authority

As time went on, the controversy of horse racing came into the public eye. The issue of drug use to disguise injuries as well as the sheer number of injuries on the track, necessitated regulation to try and fix these problems.[2] Currently there are no federal laws regulating the use of pain relieving drugs in horses—there is only state legislation. However activists are pushing for the federal government to get involved.

Shortly after the death of Eight Belles in 2008, Congress had a hearing entitled “Breeding, Drugs and Breakdown: The State of Thoroughbred Horse Racing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse.” Representative Jan Schakowsky said:

The death of Eight Belles on the track of the Kentucky Derby 2 months ago was a symptom of a host of problems that plague thoroughbred racing. The best racehorses in the sport are bred for speed because they make their money in the breeding shed instead of on the racetrack.  Catastrophic breakdowns of thoroughbred horses are becoming more common as they become increasingly fragile over the years.  Horses are doped up on performance-enhancing drugs such as cocaine, caffeine, and anabolic steroids to make them as fast as possible.[3]


Representative Schakowsky emphasized and highlighted the problems of horse racing, and explained how the industry needs to change not only for the integrity of sport but the safety of the horses and the jockeys. In addition, he emphasized why the method of breeding thoroughbred horses is the source of many of the industry’s problems.

Representative Ed Whitefield from Kentucky called for the unification of horse racing regulations. He discussed how greed has harmed the horse racing industry, and how the jockeys and the horses have been affected by this greed. He also pointed out the weakness in the industry, as there is no central governing body.3 He said:

[u]nlike every other professional and amateur sport, horseracing lacks a central regulatory authority or league that can promulgate uniform rules and regulations. While baseball and football now impose strict rules that severely penalize players for steroid and performance-enhancing drugs, horseracing remains a confusing patchwork of different regulations from State to State.[4]


Since the horses are suffering from this lack of unity, Representative Whitefield stressed that it is essential that a measure of uniformity be put in place. In addition, he stressed that since the amount of money being passed back and forth is so large, it appears foolish that there is no central governing body.

In May 2013, the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety act of 2013 was introduced during the 113th Congressional session. This bill proposed the formation of an organization designed to create rules regarding the use of both performance enhancing and pain disguising drugs in horses. The bill states: “[t]here shall be an independent anti-doping organization with responsibility for ensuring the integrity and safety of horseraces that are the subject of interstate off-track wagers.”[5] This organization would determine which drugs would be legal on race day. It would also regulate whether drugs were permitted to be given before race day, and if permitted, what dosage and frequency of treatment is allowed.3 However this bill did not pass, nor has the most recent version reintroduced during the summer of 2015.

Federal control of horse racing may allow for greater control over the use of certain drugs. During the Congressional hearing titled, “the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013,” Gregory Ferraro, DVM, Director of the University of California at Davis’ program for Equine Health testified: “[w]ith the myriad of state and local controls over racing and the various interests, from owners to trainers to racing jurisdictions, there is virtually no way that you’re going to be able to get any kind of consistent rule to control these drugs without some kind of federal legislation.” Dr. Ferraro and others argued that because there is no single governing body over the horse racing industry in the United States, it is virtually impossible for certain drugs to be consistently banned or remain legal.[6]

State Legal Authority

Horseracing is largely regulated by the states. In New Jersey, the New Jersey Racing Commission, in the Department of Law and Public Safety is responsible for regulating the safety and the integrity of the horse racing industry.[7] It has jurisdiction over Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing in this state. This commission oversees the extraction and screening of blood or urine from race horses to ensure that horses have not been inappropriately drugged for a race.5 It also conducts hearings on anyone accused of violating the state laws and regulations.

In June 2014, the commission proposed an amendment banning the presence of any drug or medication in all horses on race day:[8]

On race day, irrespective of the date, time or method of administration, no horse entered to start in, or participate in, a race shall carry in its body any drug or substance foreign to the natural horse, except external rubs and innocuous compounds.


N.J.A.C. 13:70-14A.1.6 This amendment was intended to improve both the health of the horses racing, as well as the integrity of the horse racing industry by eliminating the amount of drugs used on race day. However this amendment was not adopted.