Horse racing back in front of Congress at PA hearing: Watch live, follow Ray
As much as some members of Congress – at today’s hearing of the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health – are certain to criticize the racing industry for drugging racehorses and not punishing those who break the rules, it is highly unlikely that any federal legislation to establish national medication guidelines or oversight of racing will pass this year. It is, after all, an election year and politicians have their priorities: getting re-elected. Not much gets done in Washington, D.C., during election year.
The Paulick Report will cover the hearing (“A review of Efforts to Protect the Health of Jockeys and Horses in Horseracing”) from Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pa., beginning at 9:30 a.m. EDT, live via Twitter (follow @raypaulick). Watch live video of the hearing below.
Live stream by Ustream
If it’s anything like the June 2008 hearing that took place shortly after trainer Rick Dutrow disclosed Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown raced on then-legal anabolic steroids and the filly Eight Belles was euthanized when she fractured both front legs just past the finish of the Derby, there will be very little sympathy expressed by members of Congress for the horse racing industry. They warned industry leaders to get their act together on medication regulations and enforcement during that hearing, and I doubt they’ll think enough progress has been made in the years that followed. A series of investigative articles in the New York Times on the number of racing fatalities and serious jockey injuries at tracks throughout the United States – the most recent one published today – will give them plenty of fodder.
Unlike 2008, however, when the witness list included representatives of The Jockey Club and National Thoroughbred Racing Association (who defended the status quo system of state regulations), this year’s hearing is going to tilt very much in support of the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011, a bill filed by Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield (a member of the Subcommittee on Health) and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall. The legislation, whose co-sponsors include Rep Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, would impose a ban on all medication in racehorses, require testing labs to meet international standards for accreditation, and create tough penalties on rule violators. The Federal Trade Commission would have enforcement oversight as it does in the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which regulates interstate simulcasting.
Trainer Kenny McPeek may be the only witness who will speak out against a complete ban on race-day medication. His preference would be to ban drugs, including the anti-bleeder medication Lasix, in graded stakes only. (McPeek’s complete testimony can be read at the end of this article.)
Other witnesses, like Stone Farm’s Arthur B. Hancock III (who also spoke at the 2008 hearing) and Augustin Stable’s George Strawbridge Jr., have made their point of view clear: they support a ban on all-medication.
Following is the full witness list and the internal memorandum on the hearing by the Republican majority staff:
I. Witnesses Panel One
Mr. Gary Stevens Hall of Fame Jockey
Mr. George W. Strawbridge, Jr. Thoroughbred Owner
Mrs. Gretchen Jackson Thoroughbred Owner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro
Mr. Arthur B. Hancock, III Thoroughbred Owner
Mr. Kenny McPeek Trainer
Mr. Glenn Thompson Trainer and Author: “The Tradition of Cheating at the Sport of Kings”
Dr. Kathryn “Kate” Papp, DVM Hillcrest Meadow Equine Services, LLC (Harrisburg, PA)
Mr. Gregory L. Ferraro (via video conference) Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Director, Center for Equine Health School of Veterinary Medicine University of California, Davis
Cornelius E. Uboh, Ph.D. Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Center Department of Chemistry West Chester University
Horseracing is a $40 billion industry that generates roughly 400,000 jobs nationwide. However, the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in horses threatens the viability, safety and integrity of the sport, especially the threat to the safety and wellbeing of the jockey. Without a zero-tolerance policy for drug use, the public cannot expect a fair, clean race. Preventing drug abuse is the right and proper thing to do – for the public, for the integrity of the sport, for the health of the animals, and for the safety of the jockeys.
Congress considered banning drugs in horseracing in the 1980s, but left that decision to individual States. The Federal Trade Commission has responsibility, under the 1978 Horse Racing Act, for oversight and enforcement. However, there are 38 separate State racing commissions, with 38 different sets of rules and practices in place. As a result, no uniform rules exist to prohibit the use of performance enhancing drugs and to penalize doping violations. This has led to enforcement problems. For example, if there is one State horseracing commissioner who wants to enforce a zero- tolerance drug use policy, then trainers can avoid the rule by simply racing their horses elsewhere. States face stiff competition for the horse business and may be willing to sacrifice oversight in order to get revenue from horseracing. That impunity leads trainers to continually violate medication rules. And, horseracing then becomes a “race to the bottom” as drug use trumps the enforcement of protective rules and regulations.
Performance enhancing drugs not only destroy fair competition, but also mask underlying injuries. Horses may run harder and put extra stress on their compromised condition. This leads to breakdowns, and risks additional injury to the horse and ultimately the jockey. The NewYorkTimes recently featured an exposé discussing the impact that performance enhancing drugs in horses has on the horseracing industry and the jockey’s health.
III. Federal Legislation
The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 was enacted by Congress to regulate interstate commerce with respect to wagering on horseracing with the Federal Trade Commission providing oversight. Since 1978, Congress has continued to address public concerns about the industry and its practices. One of those concerns is the use of performance enhancing drugs in horses.
In 2008, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled “Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: the State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse” to examine the issue of performance enhancing drugs in horseracing.
H.R. 1733, The Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011, was introduced to amend the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. The legislation is designed to set national standards and implement fines related to those who medicate horses in order to influence the outcome of a race.
The hearing will provide Members with an opportunity to review the reforms, if any, that have been implemented to protect jockeys and horses in horse racing and preserve the integrity of the sport.
Congressional Testimony of Kenneth McPeek
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to testify on the important topic being discussed today.
I am Kenny McPeek. I have been a horse trainer for 27 years and have run thousands of horses all over the country and have saddled many graded stakes winners. I understand that I am here on my own and there will be those that agree and disagree in my personal opinion. However, someone needs to represent a trainer’s point of view, or else these decisions are going to be made without our input. I am here to help in the decision making process of bringing our sport together in positive ways. My hope is that this leads to a better version of the industry. An industry that is hard to define sometimes as Sport, Gambling , Agriculture, or otherwise. Horse Racing needs structure in many areas, whether it is Licensing, Medication, or Standardized Rules. I am here to help find a balance between all of these issues.
I do not believe that any major decisions about horse racing should be without involvement from professionals like myself and I am here as long as you need me and will return as many times possible to help solve problems. There are other trainers that need to be heard and they should eventually be given an opportunity to contribute to this conversation.
My reasons for supporting a Horse Racing Improvement Act would include standardized rules, licensing, medications and most importantly the welfare of the horses. I am not here to simply remove Lasix from the sport, there are many issues that are larger that need to be addressed. I have concerns that the focus of the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act is too narrow in its agenda. There are currently solid testing practices and penalties are enforced by state racing commissions, but they are inconsistent. Doping seems to be the focus here, and it is important to address these acts, but they are rare. The current testing system measures medication overages in nano-grams and pico-grams. Currently state jurisdictions testing are the most controlled of any sport in the world. Most of the so-called overages are minimal due to these extreme measurements and I believe in many cases are due to poor stable management, not necessarily cheating and doping.
As a trainer, it is sometimes confusing due to individual state medication policies. The rules are different in each state and are not always clearly communicated by each racing commission. Enforcement of medication rules is very important and it would be wonderful to have uniform rules nationally, but how can we get 38 different states to agree on one set of rules?
I realize we are here specifically to ban (performance enhancing drugs). Having spent twenty-seven years as a trainer I know firsthand of all the issues we deal with as horseman. I believe if changes are made in medication rules they should be gradual and should include trainers and veterinarians in the decision making process.
My personal opinion is that we should make Graded Races medication free, including Lasix. The Graded Stakes races are important because these horses are a significant part of breeding programs and their genetic influence is vital to strengthening the Thoroughbred. However, in many cases, the average allowance and claiming horses need a certain amount of therapeutic medications. We should be very careful to deny these horses a certain amount of medication whether it is Butazolidin or Lasix. These horses don’t affect the gene pool, but they work hard and race hard. To completely deny them therapeutic medication would be a mistake. My position is one that could possibly find balance in this conversation. A middle of the road approach to this would be smart. The Graded Stakes committee should continue to move forward in this area as they have already done in the issue of steroids. Congress should look at the overall picture on the industry and hope it can help bring them together.
Concerning breakdowns, medication overuse is not the sole cause of breakdowns, there are so many factors including track surfaces and bad luck. You will never completely eliminate the problem as injuries are unavoidable in all sports, not just horse racing.
I also completely endorse the recent rule changes in California and New York that void claims if a horse doesn’t finish the race, but of course there are still 36 other states that have yet to implement this.
The topic of Performance Enhancing Drugs is very complicated. The only current race-day drug allowed is Lasix. From my experience there are currently horses that need this therapeutically. This committee needs to move slowly in this area. Do NOT tear down the
current system, but we need to start somewhere.
Once again, my personal opinion is that for the formal elimination of race day medication in graded stakes races in the short run. Long term, the goal should be a National Uniform Medication Policy that benefits the horses. Congress needs to look at more issues than Performance Enhancing Drugs, it needs to consider bringing 38 different state racing commissions together into one set of standardized rules.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today and I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have