The congressional hearing on racing starts at 10 a.m. on Thurs., June 19.

The congressional hearing on racing starts at 10 a.m. on Thurs., June 19.

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Groups Have Say Before D.C. Hearing

A congressional hearing has triggered a flurry of comments from various groups.

As the House Subcommittee on Commerce and Consumer Protection prepared for a June 19 hearing on the horseracing industry, groups continued to weigh in on various issues, including use of anabolic steroids in racehorses.

On June 18, the Lexington-based Association of Equine Racetrack Veterinarians said it supports recommendations by The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee that call for elimination of anabolic steroids in racing. The group said its mission is in part to seek “the most humane improvements to the health and well-being of the racing athlete.”

The Jockey Club committee’s recommendation on steroids, issued June 17, was symbolic and simply reinforced the position of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which fashioned a model rule on steroids in conjunction with the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The rule, in the works for about two years, was modified earlier this year and has been adopted by about 10 racing jurisdictions in the United States.

(Link to Audio Webcast of hearing, starting at 10 a.m. ET)

There has been widespread confusion over steroids. Though the model rule technically “regulates” use of four government-approved anabolic steroids, it amounts to a ban because the substances can’t be administered for training and racing purposes. They can, however, be used therapeutically as intended when sidelined horses require treatment.

“Having taken an oath to provide the best care possible for our equine patients, all veterinarians are following what’s going on with great concern,” AERV president Dr. Frank Dwayne Marcum said in a statement. “It is our hope that any action in this area is based on sound practices that place the good of the animal ahead of all else.”

The congressional subcommittee will address use of steroids and other issues, including whether the horseracing industry needs congressional oversight or one industry organization with the power to make decisions for all. Both appear to be a stretch; states retain oversight of racing, and factions in the horseracing industry have rebelled and stymied attempts to form a true national office.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States has weighed in by calling on Congress to form a National Racing Commission. The HSUS has been rather vocal since the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles after the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). That incident was a driving force for the June 19 congressional hearing.

On a related front, various committees under the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit continue to meet. In the works are a uniform track maintenance reporting form, a track surface materials testing laboratory,  and a voluntary certification program for racetrack farriers, said Dan Fick, executive vice president of The Jockey Club.

"We've been working on this almost two years now," Fick said in a recent interview. "There is another degree of urgency since the Eight Belles incident, but it's not as some perceive it to be--a knee-jerk reaction."

As for the congressional hearing, American Horse Council president Jay Hickey said: "There is a lot going on in the welfare area that needs to be explained to the subcommittee, and this is an opportunity to do that. You read allegations that nothing has happened, but I disagree with that. As of Jan. 1, (2009), there will be a ban on steroids. That's real progress."