After spending roughly a decade in the horse racing industry, Mary Cage’s love for the animals wasn’t enough to keep her in a job that she couldn’t stomach anymore.
In recent years, headline-grabbing tragedy and scandal has dogged the horse racing industry.
In 2019, during the course of a single racing season, more than 30 horses died at California’s Santa Anita Park. Allegations of doping have followed owners and trainers of Triple Crown winners. And in March 2020, 27 people were indicted over an alleged racehorse doping scheme.
Cage, who walked away from the industry at 26, recently wrote that the tragedy of Medina Spirit, whose 2021 Kentucky Derby win was stripped and who died in December, forced her to question the direction of the industry.
“I do think that the love for horses is still very much deep-rooted in the industry, but that there is so much change that needs to be made,” Cage told NPR. “And as an old sport, horse racing has a tendency to be stuck in tradition, and therefore is often very resistant to change.”
From the fashion, mint juleps and — of course — actual horse racing, Saturday’s Kentucky Derby is an event steeped in tradition.
From the outside, the industry as a whole looks the same as it always has. But underneath the glamor and excitement, the more than 100-year-old industry is on the cusp of a major transformation.
Congress Steps In
Congress stepped in last year in response to the high-profile doping and abuse allegations plaguing horse racing.
The Safety Authority is tasked with regulating both racing safety and anti-doping control. It’s currently establishing one, uniform set of standards. The safety rules have been approved by the Federal Trade Commission and are set to become effective July 1. They are also working on anti-doping rules to become effective January 2023.
Since its inception in the U.S., the horse racing industry has largely existed under a patchwork set of rules across the dozens ofstates that host horse racing. For example, each state can have different standards on the use of whips during a race and even the types of medication horses can be given.
This is unlike other major sports leagues in the U.S. The NBA, for example, has one set of standards and rules for all athletes and teams.
The punishments for horse trainers or owners who violate these rules also differ based on jurisdiction. If they are found to have violated rules in one state, they can often participate in a race in another state shortly thereafter.
The creation of the Safety Authority gives Cage hope that a new dawn is coming for horse racing.
“I think that HISA’s going to be one of the most comprehensive steps towards uniformity and towards the safety in horses and humans and racing we could take,” Cage said.