Industry Wary of Congressional Hearing

Industry organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach to an April 30 hearing at which members of Congress will examine health and safety issues in horse racing—and whether progress has been made since the last congressional hearing almost four years ago.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will conduct the hearing at 9:30 a.m. EDT in Kennett Square in Chester County, Pa. The hearing was called by U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, chair of the subcommittee who represents three Pennsylvania counties, including Chester, in the House of Representatives.

“In 2008 the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing, and received assurances that the industry was implementing reforms to protect horses and jockeys,” the committee said April 24 in a memo. “On April 30 members will review what reforms, if any, have been made in the horse racing industry to protect jockeys, horses, and the integrity of the sport.”

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association will “have no comment on the hearing at this time,” NTRA vice president Keith Chamblin said April 24. He did, however, outline what he called a partial list of industry reforms undertaken since the June 2008 congressional hearing held in Washington, D.C.

Chamblin said anabolic steroids have been banned for racing competition; the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance was formed to accredit racetracks; the Equine Injury Database was created to track equine fatalities in racing and training; the national Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance was formed to transition racehorses to second careers; the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit has been held periodically; an online database of regulatory rulings for trainers was initiated; and a testing laboratory began examining racing surfaces.

Chamblin also said there is “broad uniformity” in medication rules in racing jurisdictions that account for 90% of pari-mutuel handle.

The Jockey Club recently issued a proposal for reformed uniform medication rules that would tighten existing model rules and create a uniform, more stringent penalty system. The document would effectively ban race-day use of furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix.

Jockey Club president and chief operating officer James Gagliano said April 24 the organization would have no comment at this time on the congressional hearing. Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Dan Metzger also refrained from comment April 24.

The Jockey Club was called to testify at the 2008 hearing; the official “witness list” for the April 30 hearing was released April 24 by the Energy and Commerce Committee.

There will be two panels, according to the committee. First to address the subcommittee will be retired jockey Gary Stevens and Thoroughbred owners and breeders Arthur Hancock III, Gretchen Jackson, and George Strawbridge Jr.

Witnesses for the second panel will be Glenn Thompson, an author and former trainer; trainer Ken McPeek; Dr. Kathryn Papp of Hillcrest Meadow Equine Services; Dr. Gregory Ferraro of the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine; and Dr. Cornelius Uboh of the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Center.

Two congressmen—U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky—are attempting to drum up support for federal legislation that would target race-day use of medication in racehorses. Industry concern thus far has centered on the bill’s failure to differentiate between therapeutic and illegal drugs, as well as provisions for oversight of the industry by the Federal Trade Commission.

Meanwhile, the Association of Racing Commissioners International will meet in Oklahoma April 25-27 for its annual convention. There is a panel discussion scheduled on race-day use of furosemide, and model rules for medication will again be discussed.

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