Congress schedules subcommittee hearing on horse racing
UPDATE: The following statement was added to the hearing notice for Monday's Congressional hearing on horse racing by the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
“Horseracing is a $40 billion industry that generates roughly 400,000 domestic jobs nationwide. Many question whether the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs on race day is threatening the viability, safety and integrity of the sport, and especially if it is a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the jockeys.
“In 2008, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue of performance enhancing drugs in horseracing and received assurances that the industry was implementing reforms to protect horses and jockeys. On April 30, members will review what reforms, if any, have been made in the horseracing industry to protect jockeys, horses, and the integrity of the sport.”
In June 2008, the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection met in the wake of a public outcry that Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown raced on then-legal anabolic steroids and following the death of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby.
Fast forward to 2012, when the Subcommittee on Health has scheduled an April 30 hearing in Kennett Square, Pa., entitled “A Review of Efforts to Protect the Health of Jockeys and Horses in Horseracing.” The hearing is in the district of Republican Rep. Joe Pitts, the chairman of the subcommittee and comes in the wake of a March 24 investigative article in the New York Times focusing on the death of horses and serious injury to jockeys, “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys: Death and Disarray at America's Racetracks.”
Among those expected but not confirmed to be invited as witnesses are retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, veterinarian Kate Papp, trainer Glenn Thompson (author of a book alleging widespread use of illegal drugs in racing), George Strawbridge of Augustin Stables, Roy and Gretchen Jackson of Lael Stables (whose 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was treated for an injury and subsequently euthanized at the New Bolton Center, just down the road from where the hearing will be conducted at the Unionville High School).
Pitts is co-sponsor of a bill filed in 2011 called the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act that would for the first time in the sport's history establish national medication rules for horse racing, ban the raceday use of all drugs, and set uniform penalties for violators. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky (sponsor of the House bill) and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, another co-sponsor, are members of the Subcommittee on Health. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico sponsored a Senate version of the bill.
The witness list at the 2008 hearing included Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who referred to the overuse of medication as “chemical warfare” on the backstretch of America's racetracks. Under critical questioning by House members who asked why the federal government should not get involved in regulating horseracing, then Jockey Club president Alan Marzelli said the industry would be better off with the existing state regulatory framework and use the “power of persuasion” to work toward uniformity. The New York Tmes exposed how lax some state regulatory bodies have been, including New Mexico, which was a focal point of the article because of its high incidence of fatal racing injuries. But the 2008 hearing also bordered on the absurd at times, such as when Rep. Schakowsky suggested Eight Belles was a “genetic disaster waiting to happen” because she had multiple presences of Raise a Native in her pedigree.
The Paulick Report plans to be at the hearing and will be covering live via Twitter (follow @raypaulick to receive) and will file a comprehensive report upon its conclusion.