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Congress Calls June 19 Hearing on Racing

The horse racing industry is the topic of a June 19 congressional hearing.

The United States House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection has scheduled a hearing—“Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse”—for June 19 in Washington, D.C.

According to a June 11 release from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the hearing will look at “commercial breeding practices that emphasize speed and precocity over durability, the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs and other medications, track surfaces, and maintenance of the tracks.”

The subcommittee in May announced its intentions to hold a hearing after the filly Eight Belles broke down and was subsequently euthanized after the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 3. It also noted other high-profile breakdowns: Barbaro in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and George Washington in last year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I).

The June 11 release said such breakdowns “point to a persistent and widespread problem, raising significant questions about the sport and its governance.  The hearing therefore will also examine the fact that horse racing lacks a central regulatory authority like other sports leagues such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball, and consequently has been very slow to address longstanding problems plaguing the sport.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who serves as ranking member of the subcommittee, said the June 19 hearing will help determine whether “special status” granted to horse racing under the federal Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 is still warranted.

Rush and Whitfield sent letters May 22 to five officials in racing asking for responses to various questions about breeding practices, drug use, and racetrack safety. The officials are with The Jockey Club, Association of Racing Commissioners International, Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., and the New York Racing Association.

The following is a “witness list” for the June 19 hearing, more details of which will be available soon.

Panel I: Alan Marzelli, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club; Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board; Arthur Hancock, a Thoroughbred owner/breeder; Jess Jackson, a Thoroughbred owner/breeder; Randy Moss, analyst for ESPN; Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg; and trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., trainer of 2008 Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown.

Panel II: Sue Stover, veterinarian at the University of California-Davis; Larry Soma, veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Mary Scollay, recently hired as Kentucky’s equine medical director; Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, veterinarian at Colorado State University; and Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.