Guest Editorial: Congressman Ed Whitfield

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

One of the goals of the Paulick Report since our launch last month is to further the dialogue on the many critical issues the Thoroughbred industry faces, and to hear from different voices representing diverse points of view with which we may agree or disagree.

The following op-ed article was written by Congressman Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, whose office contacted the Paulick Report about the possibility of its publication. The piece concerns the recent Congressional hearings on racing and his belief that the federal government can help the industry through an amendment to the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.-Ray Paulick

Time to Get Horseracing Back on Track

By U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield (KY-01)

Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection

Last month, the U.S. Congress held a hearing to examine the state of the horseracing industry in America. The voices of those who testified rang loud and clear across the country and an overwhelming consensus was reached on four key issues plaguing the Sport of Kings.

The first is that far too often, horses are given performance enhancing drugs and pain killers to ensure they run as fast as possible, while masking pain that may have provided a warning to avert a catastrophic injury for the horse and the jockey. The second is a lack of uniformity of applicable drug rules and data collection statistics regarding track accidents and safety issues among the 38 separate state racing jurisdictions. The third is the excess number of drug labs in the U.S. – over 18 today – and their inadequate funding to ensure quality and accurate testing. The fourth is the absence of any one entity with the authority or power to enforce uniformity in a myriad of regulations across state lines.

Horseracing is a $40 billion a year industry in the U.S. and generates more than 500,000 jobs nationwide. It is also a part of our nations' history and a cherished tradition. Anyone who has spent a day at the races at Keeneland, Del Mar, Saratoga or attended the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness revel in the beauty of the horses, the pageantry of the event, romanticism of the sport and the skill of the jockeys.

However, when the American people read news stories about the rampant use of drugs administered to the horses and see it described as “chemical warfare;” when they realize that over 5,000 horses have died from injuries on racetracks since 2003; when they see the life threatening injuries suffered by jockeys riding the horses; and when they discover the number of horses that are sent to slaughter every year after falling into the lowest claiming races, horseracing becomes less appealing. In fact, a recent poll taken by a newspaper in Seattle found that 38 percent of those polled wanted to ban horseracing.

I do not want to see that happen and do not believe it will. I do, however, strongly believe that Congress can help the industry solve its problems and do so without creating an expensive new federal agency.

Congress can help because it can adopt minimum standards or guidelines for excellence, control and uniformity among the 38 racing jurisdictions. Just as important, Congress can enforce the minimum standards through the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. The industry came to Congress in 1978 and asked the federal government to become involved in horseracing by adopting legislation to allow the simulcast signal across state lines without interference or obstacles. Congress obliged and did not ask anything from the industry.

Today, simulcasting provides 85 percent of the revenue for horseracing, but the industry has not been able to solve the serious issues it faces. It is time for action. I propose that Congress set minimum standards in the 1978 Act and require state racing authorities to adopt those standards to continue receiving the benefits of simulcasting. The federal government working with industry leaders and groups can solve the problems and ensure a strong, safe and vibrant sport for future generations.

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