Enhancing Participant Welfare and the Integrity of Horse Racing

The AGCO is committed to being a modern regulator by ensuring the highest standards of equine and human health and safety, and accountability across the industry.

The AGCO’s mandate as it relates to horse racing in Ontario, includes enhancing the fairness, integrity and safety of the sport, while at the same time enhancing public confidence, reducing administrative burdens, and modernizing horse racing regulation in support of the government’s ongoing effort to support its commercial sustainability.

Continuous assessment of the Rules of Racing as they relate to equine drugs and welfare allows the AGCO to uphold the integrity of the sport and to ensure the utmost protection of horses, jockeys, and drivers. 

In the spring of 2016, the AGCO launched “Moving Ahead: Horse Racing Regulation in Ontario”. This project was directed at identifying and moving forward on reforms to the regulatory rules that govern horse racing.

The AGCO actively consulted with the horse racing industry by asking for submissions to a consultation paper and establishing several industry working groups. The Health and Safety Working Group played a valuable role in advising the AGCO on ways to enhance how health and safety issues are addressed within the industry for both equine athletes and human participants. It also identified opportunities where the industry could act collectively on a range of key issues. The Equine Drug Program Working Group played a valuable role in advising the AGCO on meaningful ways to improve the equine drug process, including the penalty structure, in order to enhance and uphold the integrity of the sport.

As a result of this work, the AGCO implemented a number of new health and safety-related initiatives, including:

  • Revised penalty guidelines for inappropriate urging;
  • A temperature standard to activate additional safety measures on race days where extreme heat or cold is a factor;
  • A more streamlined process for positive drug tests; and,
  • Changes to the rules related to the use of shockwave and blood-gas machines.

The AGCO continues to explore a number of initiatives intended to safeguard the well-being of both horses and participants, which research has shown to be inherently linked. The first of these  were implemented in April 2019.

  1. Race Day Medication Ban | Effective April 19, 2019

Evidence has shown that it is in the best interest of the horse, the human participants, the betting public and the public at large that horses race free of medications. To that end, a ban on race day medications, starting 24 hours prior to the post time of the first race of the day they are scheduled to race, prohibits the administration of medications, drugs and substances to any horse entered to race. This ban does not include Furosemide when properly enrolled in the Ontario Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (E.I.P.H.) Program.

- Information Bulletin No. 70 – Ban on Race Day Medication: Introduction of a Standards-Based Rule

  1. Revised Claiming Rules | Effective April 20, 2019

The AGCO expanded the rules to permit its Race Officials to invalidate claims in instances where a horse dies during the course of a claiming race or where a horse requires euthanasia on the racetrack following a claiming race.

Enacting rules to invalidate claims in these tragic instances is intended to contribute to the enhanced health and safety of race horses and participants, as well as the integrity of racing.

- Information Bulletin No. 69 – Revisions to Claiming Provisions

  1. Introduction of a Concussion Protocol | Effective April 20, 2019

The AGCO began piloting the implementation of a Concussion Protocol at Thoroughbred racetracks in Ontario. The intention of this protocol is to ensure jockeys do not engage in racing while diagnosed by a Qualified Medical Professional as having a concussion.

Ensuring jockeys are not participating in races while suffering from the effects of concussions will enhance their personal health and safety, as well as the health and safety of other jockeys and race horses.

- Information Bulletin No. 68 – Concussion Protocol Pilot: Introduction of a Standards-Based Rule

  1. Amended Standardbred Urging Rules | Effective June 3, 2019

The AGCO amended the Standardbred Rules of Racing and Policy Directive No. 5-2009: Penalty Guidelines for Inappropriate Urging of a Horse in Standardbred Racing, limiting urging in Standardbred racing to acceptable “wrist action” only. In addition a new section has been added to the penalty guidelines, mandating a minimum fine for any violation that takes place in a race where the purse is $100,000 or more and providing direction for recommended terms for driving suspensions in relation to the total race purse. The rule change became effective at Woodbine Mohawk Park on June 3, 2019 and will be gradually phased in across all Standardbred racetracks in Ontario.

- Information Bulletin No. 71 – Amendment to Standardbred Urging Rules

The AGCO continues to explore initiatives that will help ensure the highest standards of equine and human health and safety, and accountability across the Ontario horse racing industry.  This includes an examination of international standards to determine industry best practices in other jurisdictions to inform future rule changes, education opportunities for licensees, and a holistic look at rider and horse health throughout their racing careers.

The AGCO recognizes that in order to create effective reforms, a combination of evidence-based research, regulatory reform, industry education and empowerment, and continuous feedback and engagement with the horse racing industry are required. Upholding these goals and commitments will be an ongoing endeavor, with incremental shifts that will yield positive results in the long-term.