LEXINGTON, Ky. (WAVE) - Four-term Lexington Congressman Andy Barr (R-Ky 6th) is a conservative Republican in the heart of thoroughbred country. He seems like an unlikely supporter of a move to bring national regulation to horse racing.
“Well it took a little persuasion on the part of my constituents here,” Barr said. “But what I recognized was they were not advocating for more regulation. They were advocating for smarter, more effective streamlined regulation.”
Across the U.S., horse racing is governed by 38 separate jurisdictions and a patchwork of regulation. At a time when spikes in fatal injuries for thoroughbreds raised questions about racing safety and the health of horses, Barr sponsored the Horse Racing Integrity Act. It calls for a national anti-doping and medication control authority that would create standards for all tracks in all states.
“What we’re concerned about is calls from politicians for actually banning the sport,” Barr said.
In January, the Washington Post editorial board asked the question: “Does a sport that gambles with the lives of horses really belong in our world?”
To find a solution, Barr believes horse racing should follow the lead of the NFL.
“We need the same kind of governing structure,” Barr said. “We need a single set of national rules under a single governing authority that’s independent and can give the fans and the public confidence in the integrity and safety of the sport.”
The future of the sport depends on the enthusiasm of millennials, younger fans who gravitate to online wagering platforms. A 2018 report from the Jockey Club showed the median age of people watching horse racing on television was 63, second only to golf. Barr believes improving the sport’s image is critical to reaching that younger audience.
“Safer horses does lead to a better future and I think when you couple safety, integrity with new technology with advance deposit wagering platforms, we have a great opportunity to attract more fans to the sport,” Barr said.
But the Washington Post editorial questioning the need for horse racing also questioned attempts at reform saying, “the fundamental problem is with horse racing itself.”
Undaunted, just five days before the Derby, Barr and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined thoroughbred industry leaders announcing support for the Horse Racing Integrity Act to help preserve thoroughbred racing.