Congressional hearing on horse racing: Will it have an impact?

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Gretchen Jackson at a Congressional hearing Gretchen Jackson at a Congressional hearing

Congressmen Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky got exactly what they must have wanted out of Monday’s hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, titled  “A Review of Efforts to Protect Jockeys and Horses in Horseracing.”

The fix was in.

The 2 1/2-hour hearing, conducted in Pitts’ home district in Kennett Square, Pa., rounded up a group of witnesses, some with better credibility than others, to tell members of Congress that the horse racing industry has serious problems:  a lack of national leadership, regulations and enforcement that are different from one state to another, and a culture of racing horses on a variety of drugs is killing the sport, damaging the Thoroughbred breed, and forcing honest owners and trainers to cross over to the dark side, giving drugs to horses against their best judgment so they can compete on a level playing field.


Pitts and Whitfield are co-sponsors of a bill, the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011, which would ban all drugs in a horse’s system on the day it races, require drug testing labs to meet international standards for accreditation, and impose strict penalties for rule violators.

We won’t rehash the testimony (you can see the written statements of the witnesses here), but let’s just say unsubstantiated claims and unproven statistics were made that Pitts, Whitfield and two non-committee members of Congress took as gospel.

It got to the point that Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania asked two trainers testifying, Kenny McPeek and Glenn Thompson, “How do you compete if you’re not doing the doping?”

Thompson, son of trainer Willard Thompson, presumably was called as a witness because of the book he wrote, “The Tradition of Cheating at the Sport of Kings,” and not for the 153 wins he’s compiled as a trainer over the last 32 years. Thompson said not a single trainer or veterinarian has disagreed with one of the claims in the book, that 70-85% of horses are illegally drugged when they run. But McPeek, the only witness that said he didn’t support the complete ban on medication (preferring it be applied only to graded stakes), refuted the contention by Thompson and some of the Congressmen: “I’m not convinced there’s a huge issue with doping.”

McPeek’s comment brought a testy rebuke from Meehan, who cited two recent articles in the New York Times on racing fatalities and doping of horses.

That was one of the only times there was disagreement between the members of Congress and a witness, almost all of whom were on-board in support of the federal legislation.

The bill has to pass this year or it’s dead, and that seems a longshot at best. It’s easier to kill a bill than to pass one, and racing organizations like the National Thoroughbred Racing Association with its strong lobbying effort and The Jockey Club and its members with some friends in high places are expected to fight it.

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and Whitfield both said they wished The Jockey Club and other industry organizations would try to help pass the legislation rather than fight it. But that doesn’t seem likely, either, at least not with the bill’s current language.

Dr. Greg Ferraro, a former racetrack vet who now is a director at the veterinary school at the University of California-Davis, offered one of the most refreshing comments when he admitted that he was wrong when he testified decades ago in front of racing commissions, urging them to relax their medication rules and permit the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like phenylbutazone to treat sore horses.

Things have gotten much worse since those drugs were allowed, Ferarro said. “It has not served the industry well. It has not served the horses well.” Ferraro went a step further saying the veterinary profession has not served the horses very well, either. “We haven’t done well by the breed,” he said.

One very short question from a member of Congress got the day’s only laugh when Strawbridge was asked “who’s in charge” of horse racing? Audience members familiar with the industry knew the answer Strawbridge was going to give: “no one.”

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  • Josh Stevens

    Would is still be of any benefit to sign onto the IHRIA petition? What can be done to influence the JC? Almost laughed typing that as well…

  • Rachel

    “There is nothing worse than being on a [medicated] horse with a snapped off a leg who continued to try and run for you.” Gary Stevens
     
    Well, that ’bout sums it up for me…

  • Ida Lee

    Does anything in Washington have an impact on anyone?  Yes, but only if it means being royally screwed in some way or another.  If you have a few hours, I’ll elaborate…

  • Meyer1127

    Is the outline of this not correct?
    Even if the numbers are not?
    Same song same verse

  • Rachel

    Ray said “The fix was in”

    Good. About time the fix was in on the side of the horse and jockey.

  • Lucky23

    American racing shoots themselves in the foot all the time. They should definately ban race day medication. I’ve said that for years now. Mr. Stevens is spot on. 

  • David W

    Pierro, a two year old, has run/won three GI in Australia in the last 21 days – no lasix.  We need to get it out of our breeding program like McPeek said.

  • voiceofreason

    Congressional hearing on horse racing: Will it have an impact?

    No.
     

  • Watcher

    Don’t you get it, Rachel?  Paulick is one of the good ‘ol boys, like Steven Crist and other writers with insider ties.  His news articles tilt with the wind his cronies and his advertisers sway to.  Read everything written by his hand to reflect a hidden agenda, and assume that subjects not broached by him are verboten by his handlers. That was his M.O. at the Blood-Horse and nothing has  changed since he was canned.

  • Anne Peters

    While I was watching the hearings on the link provided by the Paulick Report, I checked with the Blood Horse site and the Thoroughbred Times site. No mention of the hearings on either site. It’s like they had their heads buried in the sand….. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

  • http://judgebork.wordpress.com/ Lou Baranello

    Ray, Your critique on this mornings hearing is right on the money.  It appeared that everyone knew their lines and I did not hear many deviations from the script.  Ninety eight percent of what was said there this morning was pure unadulterated hearsay.  When will some individual of influence, or perhaps a group or organization with a sincere desire to resolve this problem, step forward and recognize the fact that this dilemma needs to be resolved by the best scientists in the country after hearing input from credible sources.  How can a proposal of any nature command respect without a scientific basis?  I believe that Gretchen Jackson, George Strawbridge and Arthur Hancock are capable of organizing and guiding such a pursuit.  Needless to say, they must first believe that science can offer the best solution possible.  I am at a loss to think of any reason why scientists can not offer the best possible answers to “Is race day medication with Lasix in any way detrimental to the thoroughbred race horse?”  Why are the stakeholders in the industry not presently seeking that expertise?  Can there be agendas other than the health, soundness and well being of the horse?   

  • Stanley inman

    Lou,
    Do we really need a scientist
    to tell us whether we should or should not
    stick a needle in the jugular of every starter in every race?
    Come on my friend,
    Think for yourself.

  • Stanley inman

    Watcher,
    Paulick report is a godsend for us.(and you?)
    Where else can we have such a cathartic experience
    And maybe do some good.
    It’s just about
    being entertained
    Give him a hug.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Ann.Mitchell.Adam Ann Mitchell Adam

    Sadly that IS the correct answer, “No one is in charge!” Therefore, many will jump in to re-direct any conversation away from this accomplishment. These people care more about their potential for $$$$$s than for the safety of jockeys and horses. It is time for the Thoroughbred Racing industry/sport to take a look at models of Indy Car Racing, a National Org. or better yet Formula One Grand Prix racing at http://www.formula1.com and look at their rules and regs as a model. This is an international org. and EVERY country that wants a F-1 Grand Prix must abide by these rules. Internally, there is a drivers org. that can vote to refuse to drive if conditions are unsafe. But, as I understand it this CAN be done by jockeys already, but DO they feel safe in doing this? Besides, who votes for the horses???   

  • Partsmanbmw

     You think it bothered him, that his mounts that won all those GI’s were on the juice ??

  • Bellwether

    I like him…but HELL NO!!!…ty…

  • Cass

     although I am against racing horses on performance enhancing drugs, I take exception to this comment of Gary Stevens.  Does he know that his horse that snapped his leg off and is still trying to run has been medicated?  and if he does, then some questions need to be answered.   Sheer adrenaline will keep a horse running as we have all seen in fields with a herd of horses running.  If one is hurt, it does not immediately stop running but keeps going until it registers in his brain that something is wrong.  Racehorses, medicated or not,  are going to get hurt just as much as horses running in the pastures.  Gary’s comment,  because of who he is, does a lot of damage to the image of American horse racing and as Gary rode many graded horses, he implies that doping goes on at the top tier of the sport also.  I find it hard to believe that an owner and trainer would take a chance of hurting a horse running at those levels as the horse must be worth a substantial amount.    I surely hope Gary’s comment is taken out of context

  • Change is Needed

     Ask Bob Baffert if War Emblem’s knees were tapped during his 3 year old year.  

  • http://www.winnerscirclepartners.com/ Stewart Nickel

    Another creative “handle” added to the long list of people afraid to use their own names on this site.  When you are done calling Bob, maybe you will gain the courage to post the results of this discussion under a real name.

  • Frank L.

    Yes,
    because of people like you that “DO NOT” understand, now I
    said “DO NOT” understand, what is happening. Your thinking
    would have been an asset to the lynch mob days!

  • Frank L.

    How about the
    “unsound” sires!
    Sires and broodmares that are targeted for breeding,
    now or in the near future — Here is where the real problem lies.
    If the breeding stock could not hold up under race conditions, how
    are their offspring going to hold up. This is just a list of
    “recent” known horses. The whole program needs to be
    investigated!!

    Animal Kingdom — Stress facture
    Havre de Grace — lateral ligament in ankle
    Misremembered — Tendon
    Dunkirk — condylar fracture
    Archarcharch — condylar fracture
    Princess Arabella — Tendon
    Eskendereya — Soft Tissue (usually tendon or
    suspensory)
    Unbridles Song —  Fractured cannon bone;
    re-occurring feet/hoof problems ; Sire

                         
    of  many injury prone offspring.  Just Goggle
    his name!!
    Winslow Homer — slab fracture
    Old Fashioned — slab fracture

    How about the
    “unsound” sires!

    Sires and broodmares that are targeted for breeding,
    now or in the near future — Here is where the real problem lies.
    If the breeding stock could not hold up under race conditions, how
    are their offspring going to hold up. This is just a list of
    “recent” known horses. The whole program needs to be
    investigated!!

    Animal Kingdom — Stress facture

    Havre de Grace — lateral ligament in ankle

    Misremembered — Tendon

    Dunkirk — condylar fracture

    Archarcharch — condylar fracture

    Princess Arabella — Tendon

    Eskendereya — Soft Tissue (usually tendon or
    suspensory)

    Unbridles Song —  Fractured cannon bone;
    re-occurring feet/hoof problems ; Sire

                         
    of  many injury prone offspring.  Just Goggle
    his name!!

    Winslow Homer — slab fracture

    Old Fashioned — slab fracture

  • Frank L.

    Stanley —

    It’s people such as you
    that “ARE” swayed by the media (of which Paulick is part). You
    don’t know so you believe what you read.

  • Frank L.

    Cass —

    Your comment makes to much
    sense for the type of person who comments on this site.

    Note:

    If Gary Stevens knew his
    horse was medicated to the extent of “breakdown’ what does that say
    about the integrity of this “attention seeker”. His
    generalizations are an affront to all the racing community that knows
    his “abuse” of medications, himself, by his own admission !!

    Where is Jerry Bailey, a
    reputable Hall of Famer?

  • http://judgebork.wordpress.com/ Lou Baranello

    In reply to Stanley Inman:
    Mr. Inman, A sampling of your postings has convinced me that you owe it to all potential readers of your material to preface your postings with a disclaimer somewhat like this: “Any Resemblance To Truth, Fact Or Common Sense Contained Herein Is Purely Coincidental And Is Merely The Product Of A Feverish Imagination.

  • Frank L.

    Well said!!  Bravo

  • Circusticket

    So far the scientists haven’t care much.  They concluded, from the study done in South Africa, that Lasix helped reduce the severity and incidence of bleeding.  Each horse ran only once on Lasix and once on a placebo.  Concluding anything from that is irresponsible.

    However, to do a study on long term effects of Lasix use would cost a fortune.  Where would the money come from?  Where would the horses come from?

    Since it doesn’t appear that anyone has the interest in a long term study, we’ve decided to keep using Lasix and keep our fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong.  Not a smart choice because the anecdotal evidence is pointing to long term harm.

  • Joe

    No one has been purely voting for the horses. Failing to create an authority which sole mission would have been to protect the welfare, safety and fate of race horses on and off track has been the biggest mistake the racing industry has made. Most problems are directly related to its failure to adequately protect horses against mediocrity, abuse and greed even though tragically, when horses fall they take the whole industry down with them.

  • http://twitter.com/BigSkyEquine SaratogaSid

    Hi Ray,
    You must mean the fix is “out.” Banning of raceday drugs means fewer fixed races, you know. Horses are extremely vulnerable to pharmaceutical manipulation, as raceday drugs make racehorses vulnerable to breakdowns and rogue performances. Drugs can easily fix horseraces, while no raceday drugs allow a fair race, and as well, drug free racing allows the best horse to prevail.
    The folks testifying are in the know, they all know raceday drugs harm the horses and the industry.
    Cheers to everyone who stood up for the health, safety, and welfare of Equus caballus.
    SaratogaSid

  • Change is Needed

     You are correct.  I have asked the site to remove the comment.  Waiting for them to do so.   I was not inferring that it’s criminal to possibly work on a joint, but I do believe it goes on at the higher levels as well based on people who I know have worked for some top outfits.   I didn’t mean to call out Baffert and I apologize for that.

  • http://www.winnerscirclepartners.com/ Stewart Nickel

    You can call out whoever you want, including me, for all I care.  I just wish you would have the maturity and/or guts to use a real name.

  • Convene

    Maybe I didn’t read this right – or it wasn’t quoted right – but I noticed that Kenny McPeek didn’t think the ban on raceday meds should apply to non-graded stakes. That doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to me that the largest number of sore horses (who ultimately break down as a result) are running at the lower, non-graded levels. The articles etc. I’ve been reading suggest that’s where the greatest abuses occur – which makes sense because the Graded Stakes horses are high-profile and in everyone’s sights whereas fewer eyes are on the bottom levels. Unless I read it wrong, I have to ask how come “cheap” horses don’t rate protection too. If I’m misinformed, I apologize. If not, my question stands.

  • Glenn Thompson

    Convene, McPeek was talking out of both sides of his mouth. Your point is valid and all horses need protection. Thanks for joining in!

  • Glenn Thompson

    Thanks Sid!! For some reason Ray Paulick is acting like he wants to start a new group called:  Support Drugs For Racehorses.  Not understanding why??

  • Glenn Thompson

    Good Article on it now Anne

  • Glenn Thompson

    I heard he got fired from the Blood Horse. I told him he should go work for the National Inquirer but I dont even think they would support Drugs for Horses!

  • Glenn Thompson

    Cass, The problem is those horses run for a purse that is very substantial.Some people do whatever they can to win a big purse.

  • Convene

     I’m in all right. I’ve been in ever since these meds, starting with Bute, were legalized decades ago. I was surprised not to be mobbed and flamed for my comment on the previous day’s discussion! Most of us ‘way back when predicted this scenario. In fact, we couldn’t imagine anything else happening – some humans being what they are. If they need pain medication, what they really need is time off to heal.

  • Glenn Thompson

    You got a lot of likes there Lou, Good Job!!

  • Equine Avenger

    “forcing honest owners and trainers to cross over to the dark side”

    Don’t forget those former owners and trainers who ‘refused’ to cross over to the dark side, instead, choosing to keep those ethical qualities intact and decided to leave the trainer/owner ranks rather then to continue competing with the magnitude of cheats running loose on the lead.

    Trust me, they exist too…..

  • Stanley inman

    Frank l.
    “I believe everything I read”

  • Stanley inman

    Lou,
    Thanks for the advice.
    I know i must sound like a broken record to you and others
    who share your views.
    But,
    I am a man on a mission
    It’s very simple:
    The horse comes first.
    Criticism me personally, if you must
    I can handle it.

  • Stanley inman

    Lou,
    I wish Paulick report posting included photos.
    My posting would include a picture of me mainlining a racehorse.
    A picture is worth a 1000 words don’t you think.

  • Larry Ensor

    I met Ken many years ago when he was just starting to make a name for himself. Have always respected him and what he has to say. But I had to scratch my head when asked about “stacking” and he replied he had never heard of it. I attended the meeting so correct me if I misunderstood his reply. I also thought he was a bit dismissive of Dr. Papp as others have been. She spoke the truth and it took nerve and fortitude. When she tried to explained why some trainers would rather “go for broke” on cheap fixes instead of paying for radiographs and proper rehab due to their economic situation Ken’s reply was to chastise the owners. Well, it just showed his disconnect with the real world of racing. Especially these days where a considerable amount of horses on the bottom end are trainer owned and most are just getting by. I by no means condone their reasons but having grown up with “Mom & Pop” stables I understand them. IMO everything Dr. Papp had to say was true and correct and has been for years. As to most owners wanting to do the “right thing” please. I am sure they do in stakes barns.
    I have not read Mr. Thomson’s book but plan to. Though I am pretty sure nothing in it would surprise me.

  • Jasonfeldman

    Don’t waste your time or $9.95 reading Thompson’s essay on why he can’t even win a fixed race. It is laughable and seems to have been written by a fifth grader who has no knowledge of horses or racing. All he does is accuse everyone at Monmouth Park of cheating because he can’t win. Then there is a section about his divorce and how he is now a changed man. He is disgruntled and delusional.

  • DR SLOT

    I can only hope so- I just watched another horse-the favorite break down at CD-it’s getting really hard to continue to watch this sport- I’m not a PETA fan but maybe they’re right about horse racing- the company line of being sad about these poor animals breaking down is getting tiring- it’s bordering on cruelty- if a VET can’t figure out that a horse is hurt than somebody going to have to start doing something about this ridiculous behavior- how about if a horse breaks down during a race than consider him/her a non starter-refund all bets- want to see break downs stop-that will do it- and if a certain number of break downs occur at any meet fine all racinos who have these break downs at their tracks pay into lowering take out for future meets- you won’t see a horse break down again

  • Glenn Thompson

    Larry, send me your email to Daresoar@aol.com and I will send you a free copy of my book. You are right, Dr. Papp was very brave in coming forward and I feel Mr. McPeek could have been a little more forthcoming with his testimony. The NJ Racing Comision tried to rule him off for a year several years ago due to a horse that broke down at Monmouth Park. From what I now understand, he had a horse that had a broken splint bone and he had xrays on the horse. He chose to race the horse and he broke down and was destroyed on the track. I think he won on apeal due to the splint bone being a non supporting bone. I think the vets that looked into it are now of the opinion that if the splint bone breaks high, which is where this one was, it is very dangerous. Ken at the time probably did not know how dangerous this but it was a very unfortunate thing to have happen.

  • Glenn Thompson

    Jason, Please walk into your kitchen and walk to the Refrigerator, look down and to the right and there is a drawer, pull back on the handle and open the drawer, in the drawer is a rust collored bottle with a green cap. Take the bottle out of the drawer and here is the tricky part, while you are pushing down, twist the cap to the left, take out two of the pills and take them with some milk. Wait at least a half hour after taking the pills before responding to this post. I did miss you while you were put away!! Suz sorry I couldn’t help it!!

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