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Horsemen to Talk Equine Health, Safety

The National HBPA will address equine health and welfare issues at a July forum.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association will tackle equine health and welfare issues at a two-hour forum July 18 during its summer convention in Hershey, Pa.

The forum, the latest in a series of horse racing industry endeavors to study the issues and develop short- and long-term solutions, will come about a month after a congressional subcommittee hearing into equine breeding practices; use of medication, including steroids, in racehorses; and impediments to on-track safety. The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will hear from industry representatives June 19 in Washington, D.C.

The subcommittee’s “witness list” as of June 12 didn’t include a representative of a major horsemen’s group in the United States, though trainers Rick Dutrow Jr. and Jack Van Berg have been called to speak. The hearing has broad ramifications for horsemen practically and economically; Congress plans to consider if the racing industry’s “special status” under the federal Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 is still warranted.

“The issue of the welfare and safety of the horse has been ongoing for quite some time,” Remi Bellocq, chief executive officer of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said June 12. “(The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit) was a good idea, and it has done a lot of good, solid work that needs to be continued. Plus, on this issue, (the summit) is a good convening authority (for the industry).”

The summit was launched in the fall of 2006 and continues to issue recommendations and authorize research. In May, The Jockey Club formed the Thoroughbred Safety Committee to look at equine health and safety and make recommendations, a few of which may be released the week of June 15. The panel was created just days after the breakdown and death of the filly Eight Belles in the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Horsemen’s groups and others in the industry have long resisted attempts to tinker with the IHA, which authorizes simulcasts across state lines, including account wagering. About 85%-90% of pari-mutuel handle on live races is now generated off-track or through other electronic means.

Bellocq said the July 19 congressional hearing “could provide new insights,” but horsemen will be “watching very carefully what comes out of the hearing,” in particular any recommendations on the IHA.

“There’s probably a laundry list of people who would like to amend the IHA,” Bellocq said. “Our concern is that could open a Pandora ’s box. A lot of economic issues are at play right now.”

Indeed, some horsemen’s groups and racetracks are in conflict over fees charged for signals, and the resulting revenue to purses. The IHA gives horsemen’s groups and others the right to consent before signals are sent from racetracks to various wagering outlets.

The July 18 National HBPA forum, titled “Welfare and Safety of the Horse—Where We Are and Where We Are Going”—will look at equine health and welfare from a practical perspective for horsemen. The horsemen’s organization, with about 30 affiliates, also will discuss medication and wagering-related economic issues during its convention.

Bellocq said the July 18-20 convention will allow horsemen time to "weigh in" on any recommendations that come from the congressional hearing or industry groups. "(The convention) is when we really sit down and decide how to best move forward," he said.

“The National HBPA applauds the hard work our industry has been undertaking to address the issue of improved welfare and safety for horse and rider," National HBPA president Joe Santanna said in a statement released June 13. "We have dedicated substantial time during our upcoming convention on this issue, and we look forward to reviewing and acting on any and all recommendations, especially those from the Welfare and Safety of the Horse Summit and The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee.”