U.S. Senate hearing: We’ve been here before

by | 07.12.2012 | 8:04am

If Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Famer, were in attendance at this afternoon's United States Senate hearing of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (entitled Medication and Performance Enhancing Drugs in Horseracing), he might say it was déjà vu all over again.

Note: follow @raypaulick on Twitter for live reporting on today's hearing, which has been moved from 2:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

The date was May 26, 1982, and then it was the Senate's Judiciary Committee talking about the Corrupt Horse Racing Practices Act, a bill sponsored by Arkansas Sen. David Pryor. The meeting was chaired by Maryland's Charles “Mac” Mathias, who a year earlier said he had cautioned “the racing community that there was a small, dark cloud on the horizon, the possibility of federal legislation dealing with the problem of horse drugging.”

Sen. Mathias said: “Drug abuse on some racetracks persists and the practice of numbing or masking injuries or soreness is still with us…it is unfair to the horses and unfair to the bettors, since the records of past performances are worthless without an accompanying record of medication. … We want to find out if the states have a real interest in eliminating race-day drugs.”

Sen. Pryor proclaimed “no other major racing country in the world today allows the prerace medication of horses – only in America.” He cited a survey of Blood-Horse magazine readers saying more than two-thirds of owners and breeders opposed raceday medication of horses.

The Corrupt Horse Racing Practices Act, written in the wake of highly publicized articles in Sports Illustrated detailing race-fixing involving drugging of horses, would 1) require pre-race testing of horses; 2) ban all race-day drugs, including phenylbutazone and Lasix; and 3) prohibit the icing, numbing or freezing of horses prior to a race.

“Most important objective of the legislation we are considering today,” said Sen. Pryor said, “is to turn the current state medication rules and regulations into one single, enforceable, uniform standard.”

Sound familiar?

That bill died, just as the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011 is likely to die later this year. The current bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, who may be the only senator who actually shows up to question the witnesses invited to testify (believe it or not, some witnesses who testified in 1982 will be back to testify in 2012). There are 25 members of the Commerce Committee and as late as Wednesday afternoon, sources told the Paulick Report not one of the other members had expressed an intention to attend.

So with such anticipated apathy from the U.S. Senate in an election year, why go forward with this hearing (click here to see who will be testifying)?

Simply stated, the legislation will not go forward this year without virtually unanimous support from all 100 U.S. senators, and that isn't likely to happen.

Perhaps it is a matter of setting the stage for new legislation in 2013, when a new Congress is sworn in. The current legislation before the House and Senate is too onerous, too vague, and simply won't work. Another attempt in 2013, this time with the cooperation of some powerful industry groups, might have a better chance of succeeding. For example, there has been talk of simply changing the language of the Interstate Horseracing Act that facilitates interstate simulcasting. A change in the approval for simulcasting, from “representative horsemen's organization” at the host racetrack to a national organization such as The Jockey Club or Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, could accomplish the same goal as the current legislation.

For those who are interested in seeing the transcripts from the 1982 Corrupt Horse Racing Practices Act Senate hearing, click here.

I'm sure there will be more than a few similaries to what you can see online in today's hearing (click here at 2:00 p.m. ET to follow).

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