Trifecta: Three things to know about horse racing law before opening day

This Saturday, November 25th, marks opening day for horse racing at the Tampa Bay Downs @TampaBayDowns #TampaBayDowns. Given that this year’s Florida-Florida State game doesn’t really mean much more than bragging rights for whose team sucks just a little less than the other, dawning some derby attire, having some drinks, and having some fun at the races is a great alternative. If you decide to make it to the Tampa Bay Downs, here’s a trifecta of some laws and rules operating behind the scenes that you might not be aware of:

There is no Florida Racing Commission

Unlike many states, Florida does not have a Racing Commission. Instead, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering handles the duties and responsibilities typically carried out by a racing commission. In addition to horse racing and harness racing, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering also oversees greyhound racing, jai-alai, card rooms, and slot machines in Florida.


Horses can be drug tested immediately after the race

Just like finely tuned athletes in the NFL or MLB, horses undergo intense training and utilize medication and nutrition to maximize performance. And just like in other professional sports, horses are tested to ensure they are not ingesting illegal performance enhancing drugs.  Chapter 61D-6.005 allows the stewards, division, or track veterinarian to send any horse for testing immediately after the race. This testing typically involves taking urine or blood samples to send for testing. A controversial rule in horse racing is known as the “absolute insurer rule.” Chapter 61D-6.002 states that the “trainer of record shall be responsible for and be the absolute insurer of the condition of the horses.” What this means is that a trainer is responsible for anything in the horse’s body regardless of whether it was ingested knowingly or intentionally. For instance, environmental factors, contaminated food, or even a horse consuming urine while eating hay bedding can contribute to positive results in drug testing. This can lead to suspensions and fines for trainers and owners despite no ill-intent on their part. Interestingly, Florida repealed its drug testing requirements for jockeys in 2012.


Owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses can be suspended or banned from racing

A violation of the rules by an owner, trainer, or jockey results in a “Notice of Violation and Hearing.” This administrative hearing takes place in front of a panel of three race stewards and operates similar to a trial with the respondent (licensee) afforded the right to legal representation, the ability to subpoena witnesses, present evidence, cross examine opposing witnesses, and to appeal the decision. Punishments vary based on the severity of the offense and the number of previous violations. For instance, a first time violation of using a medication not approved for veterinary use by the FDA is a $1,000 to $2,500 fine and suspension of license for 60 days to one year, or revocation of license; whereas a second violation would lead to a $2,500 to $5,000 fine and a revocation of license. Respondents can appeal decisions to the division director and ultimately to an actual court.

For more information about opening day, check out the Tampa Bay Downs Facebook page at  #TampaBayDowns @TampaBayDowns or the website at

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