Reining in the Horse Racing Industry: A Proposal for Federal Regulation of Steroid Use in Racehorses

Appearing in KJEANRL Vol. 1 No. 1, this note was written by staff member Jennifer Jabroski. The abstract was written by staff member Bryan Henley.

The use of performance enhancing drugs is a major and ongoing controversy in many professional sports involving human athletes, most notably Major League Baseball. In general, arguments surrounding these issues are invariably drawn to the effect these drugs have on the integrity sport itself, and the risk of harm that they have on the athletes. It should come as no surprise that many of the same problems permeate sports where nonhuman athletes compete, such as horse racing. Strong arguments have been put forth that improper use of anabolic steroids on racehorses both harms the endeavor of sport of racing itself and increases the risk of injury to the horse. Accordingly, many jurisdictions have “banned” use of these drugs. However, many steroids are distillations of naturally occurring chemicals found in the body, so regulation relies on setting reasonable thresholds where the occurrence of a concentration in excess of that threshold denotes a foreign supply. Furthermore, these drugs do have valid medical uses that regulation should not encourage trainers to neglect, less such regulation become an instrument of harm to the horse – a purpose in direct contrivance of its generally accepted goals.

In her KJEANRL note entitled “Reining in the Horse Racing Industry: A Proposal for Federal Regulation of Steroid Use on Racehorses,” Jennifer M. Jabroski explores the current regulatory schemes of four states with a well developed horse industry: Kentucky, California, New York, and Illinois. These schemes are then compared with each other and with the suggested standards set for by the Racing Medication Testing Consortium, which is a voluntary body composed of major stakeholders and technical experts for the horse racing industry. The result is inconsistency; inconsistency with the drugs, their therapeutic regulation, and the penalties associated with noncompliance. Such inconsistency is anathema to economic development of the sport and possibly the health and well being of the horses themselves. As it currently exists, horse racing relies heavily on the transportation of the same horse between multiple states. A diligent owner would be burdened with compliance to the multiple, and potentially contradictory, regulations of all relevant states. Alternatively, as many jurisdictions have failed to regulate at all, horses that only race in unregulated jurisdictions would be placed at greater risk.

Federal regulation is the solution that Ms. Jabroski proposes. Empowered by the commerce clause, Congress could prescribe a uniform regulation of steroid use for race horses. This uniformity would be of economic benefit to the industry by providing its participants with a clear and consistent standard of operation. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the integrity of the sport would be maintained both by direct fair standards of competition while simultaneously securing the safety of all racehorses within the United States.