Members of Congress April 30 heard of problems in the Thoroughbred racing industry—most of them related to equine medication—but stopped short of a full endorsement of federal intervention.
Eight individuals, including three prominent owners, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health during a two and a half hour hearing at Unionville High School near Kennett Square, Pa. The witnesses all said they don’t believe race-day medication has a place in Thoroughbred racing.
“It’s one thing to use drugs therapeutically after a race, but another thing to use them to mask (other drugs) during a race,” said Gretchen Jackson, who with her husband, Roy, owned Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro.
“If there is no race-day medication, it would solve a lot of problems in racing,” said retired jockey Gary Stevens, now a racing broadcaster.
With the exception of adjunct bleeder medications, which are in the process of being banned in the jurisdictions that permit their use, the only therapeutic drug legal on race day is furosemide, commonly called Salix or Lasix. The differentiation between therapeutic and illegal drugs wasn’t made clear during the hearing, leading to speculation lawmakers on Capitol Hill may not really grasp the issue.
“I think it left people more confused than actually clarifying the issue,” Thoroughbred Racing Associations executive vice president Chris Scherf said after the hearing.
Trainer Ken McPeek testified he believes in a balanced approach with input from all stakeholders. He said graded stakes should be medication-free, but “in many cases, the average allowance and claiming horses need a certain amount of therapeutic medication. To completely deny them therapeutic medication would be a mistake.”
McPeek suggested the subcommittee “move slowly in this area” and not “tear down the current system” without serious research and dialogue.
U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, the subcommittee chairman whose districts include Kennett Square, said Congress “may have to step in to offer a strong national framework” for horse racing regulation. But he stopped short of offering a plan.
“If you can get racing commissions or your professional organizations to deal with this, you are so much better off doing that than asking Congress to get involved,” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas lawmaker who co-chairs the House Subcommittee on Health told the witnesses.
“I don’t want to see the federal government involved in it either,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. He did note, however, that industry efforts on national regulation have repeatedly failed.
Whitfield is a sponsor of the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act, which would alter the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to ban performance-enhancing drugs on race-day and enact harsher penalties for offenders. The bill has been slow to pick up support, in part because it makes no differentiation between therapeutic and illegal drugs.