Racing Industry Gets Congressional Inquiry

Udall and Whitfield ask for details on track, racehorse safety.

On the eve of Kentucky Derby weekend, Thoroughbred industry leaders received letters from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) demanding answers to a series of questions regarding the adoption of horse and track safety regulations and the monitoring of their effectiveness. The congressmen asked for written responses to be sent to them by May 14.

The letters dated April 29 were sent to Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club; Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association; and Ed Martin, president and CEO of Racing Commissioners International.

“Given the benefits of the IHA (Interstate Horseracing Act), we as members of Congress expect the horse racing industry to not only protect the safety and welfare of its animals and jockeys, but also ensure the integrity of the sport," all three letters state.

Each of the letters also have the same central theme—one that was emphasized during hearings before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in June 2008—that Thoroughbred racing is struggling to police itself because it lacks a central governing body or “league."

“This lack of central governance thus complicates efforts to root out cheating, deter illegal drug-use, and ensure safe racing conditions,” the letters state.

As examples, the letters mention high-profile incidents involving Eight Belles and Barbaro, and though they state these horses' injuries may, “not be directly linked to these longstanding problems in the sport.” The letters also state, “Nevertheless, they did spark justifiable scrutiny of practices that critics have long maintained are harmful to horses, jockeys, and the integrity of the sport.”

Each letter ends with a list of eight to nine questions including: how many racetracks have conformed to the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance's accreditation program; how many racetracks and regulatory authorities have adopted the RCI's model rules and Racing and Medication Testing Consortium recommendations; and are existing penalties for medication and performance-enhancing drugs adequate to prevent owners, trainers, and veterinarians from endangering horses and their riders? The letter to The Jockey Club also asks what percentage of injured Thoroughbreds were 24 months old or younger.

“We welcome the scrutiny of the Senate and House Committees and sincerely appreciate their interest in improving the sport of Thoroughbred racing,” Waldrop said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to providing a comprehensive update to Congress and answering any questions it has on the safety and integrity fronts.”

Coincidentally, the letter was drafted the same day that federal intervention was debated during the 25th National Conference on Equine Law in Lexington, Ky. 

Copies of the letters sent to each organization can be accessed below:

Questions for the NTRA

Questions for The Jockey Club

Questions for the RCI