The Paulick Report will be blogging live from Thursday's hearing on horse racing from Washington, D.C.
9:45…The guests begin to assemble for the hearing on “Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: the State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred,” and Christian Fjeld, staff counsel for the subcommitee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, doesn't seem very happy about Rick (no show) Dutrow. “We havent heard from him, so we are still expecting to see him here, Fjeld said. “His chair and name placard will be here unless we here from him before the hearing starts.” Fjeld said it is “unusual” for someone not to call the committee to say they are unable to attend.
“Unusual?” That's a good way to describe Mr. Dutrow.
9:50…Debbye Turner, correspondent for the CBS Evening News, is here to put the finishing touches on a piece she has been working on about Jess Jackson and the horse racing industry. She said it will air tonight. TV people sure look a lot better than print folks. She's seated next to me and Joe Drape of the NY Times, which could make anyone look good.
9:55…The room is filling up quickly. Heavy press attendance and horse racing folks who are not testifying, including Roy Jackson, who raced Barbaro with wife Gretchen.
10:07…Meeting called to order by Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. She acknowledges subcommittee chairman Bobby Rush of Illinois (yes, the former Black Panther, but that is sooo yesterday), who is recovering from a serious health issue. She then reads an opening statement that charges horses racing are “doped with cocaine, caffeine and anabolic steroids.” A breeding expert apparently, she goes on to talk about how Eight Belles was inbred too much to unsound horses. Someone on her staff must be a Bill Nack fan. Nack wrote a piece critical of the pedigree of Eight Belles, who died in the Kentucky Derby, being inbred to Native Dancer. “It has become almost impossible to tell what their natural condition is (because of doping).” Oh, brother, this is going to be a long day. “What's going on here?” she asks. Hey, that's not fair to use that slogan. The Blood-Horse editorial page owns that. “Work with us to clean up your sport,” she says.
10:12…Next up is Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, the ranking Republican of the subcommittee. He cites three primary problems. “Our horses race more on drug induced ability than on natural ability,” Whitfield says. Second problem, he said, “is a lack of transparency.” Third issue “is a lack of an authority to make decisions and enforce rules and regulations. There is not any one entity that can enforce regulations.”
10:15…In fairness to No Show Dutrow, Joe Drape leaned over and said, “They lie,” in reference to politicians. What? OMG. “I know for a fact Dutrow called Whitfield's office,” he said. Sorry, Rick. You're absence is excused as far as I'm concerned.
10:10…Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida talked about his home region in Ocala, Fla., then shifted to Eight Belles. “Was this a freak accident with Eight Belles?” He said he doesn't want the federal government to run horse racing. “I don't want you to work with us. I want you to work without us,” he said. Stearns talked about “rainers who give their horses cocaine and all they get is a slap on the wrist. Stearns said horses are committing suicide. I wonder, do they have mental problems, too, in addition to their physical weakness?
10:25…Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska saluted Jack Van Berg, the Hall of Fame trainer who will be testifying later. Terry said he worked at Ak-sar-ben (hey, that's Nebraska spelled backwards!) during college and the Van Berg name was huge back then. Wonder if the good Congressman knows Ak-sar-ben is toast.
10:30…After all the opening statements by congressman are finished, acting chairman Schakowsky states, “This hearing is completely bipartisan.” That could be a first in this town.
10:35…Schakowsky slaps Dutrow a hard one. “Disappointed” by his absence, she says. Lot of chuckles from the audience when she says she hopes, after he feels better, Dutrow will join the efforts to clean up the sport. Now I am conflicted. Who should I believe: Joe Drape or a politician?
10:37…Alan Marzelli of the Jockey Club is the leadoff hitter. Says he is “grateful” to be here. Anyone have a lie detector machine around here? A look around the room shows it is standing room only. “The thoroughbred safety committee's work has just begun,” Marzelli says, after outlining the recommended changes the committee announced Tuesday. Marzelli said he is “confident” that 2008 will be the last year anabolic steroids are used in horses for racing or training.
10:43…Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board gets off a good line: “We used to have twice the horses and half the vets. Today we have twice the vets and half the horses.” Is “pharmacopia” a word? Shapiro used it to describe the prevalence of medication in racing today. He cites clenbuterol as an example of a drug that is misused. “It was intended for cattle,” he said.
10:46…Shapiro cut off by the chairman…”You have one minute left.” He reads faster! Shapiro wants a national racing charter with one set of rules for all. He is against a national regulatory body, but wants a national racing commission. Not sure I understand the difference.
10:50…Van Berg not happy with the status quo. He needs horses, and he should tell the chairwoman that Alysheba isn't dead (unless she knows something we don't…thanks for the comment and the heads up Alicia)
10:53…Randy Moss is g-oo-oo-oo-d. He should be on TV, he is so Randy. Great inflections and solid commentary. He talks about how U.S. racing's emphasis on drugs has hurt the sport, then slowly says: “This…must…change.”
Moss for racing commissioner. Seriously.
10:56…Arthur Hancock has a tough act to follow, but his folksy Kentucky accent should go over well. “No one's in charge,” said Arthur. We've heard this over and over, and it's been Arthur's mantra for many years. Will this change things? “Chemical horses make chemical babies,” he said, discussing drugs. Great story about the cat and mice. Finishes on a nice touch, quoting Winston Churchill with a twang.
11:03…Jess Jackson trumps Arthur Hancock! “I'm an eighth-generation horseman,” he proclaims. Arthur, the poor sap, is only a fourth generation horseman. And Jackson said he saw Seabiscuit…the horse…not the movie! I heard the movie was better than the horse. But the book was better than both. But seriously. Drugs? “Ban them,” he says. Jackson also wants more disciplinary measures taken against veterinarians. David Foley, executive director of the American Association of Equine Practitioners looks sternly in Jackson's direction and whispers something to veterinarian Wayne McIlwraith, who speaks on the second panel. Jackson wants a national owner's organization and said two words should be changed in the Interstate Horseracing Act to accommodate a national owners' organization to negotiate with the tracks. I'm afraid Jackson is going to get the gong from the chair if he doesn't wrap it up.
11:10…Question time from the chair. Do you believe in a national body? Yes or no? All say yes (but Marzelli says “industry” not “government”). Mixed responses about the federal government regulating drugs: Marzelli was a clear “no,” but the others say yes, some with conditions. Should all drugs be eliminated? Yes, all around. This should be easy, then, right? She's onto Marzelli's confidence about swiftly changing the drug rules nationally. Why? “I'm an optimist at heart,” Marzelli said. “We certainly make it difficult on ourselves.” Now he is patting himself on the back about creating Equibase…there's a smokescreen if I ever saw one to avoid a very good question.
11:16…Whitfield aims at Marzelli, too, about the powerless of the Jockey Club to get its recommendations adopted. “What power do you have?” he asked. “We have the power of persuasion and consensus building,” Marzelli said, in a very low tone. “I would like to see the industry regulate itself.”
11:23…”The Jockey Club is a fiefdom!” Jackson says in response to a comment from Marzelli. Much laughter from the audience. Congress wants to enforce rules against inbreeding or wants the Jockey Club to do that? Marzelli is against these “selective and arbitrary measures.”
11:28…”The army needs a general,” Hancock says, in reference to a change in the Interstate Horseracing Act putting owners in charge of simulcast contracts.
What he would have said. Dutrow's written testimony:
When I was contacted by one of your staffers and asked to speak here today I agreed because I wanted to share my insights and points of view on some of these issues and I hope that I can be helpful here.
I also hope that I was not asked to be here because of some of the problems I have had in the past. I hope your staff people were sincere in inviting me because they valued my insight. I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
I also ask for your patience today. I'm not always the best at explaining things. I've been taking care of horses all my life. I dropped out of high school more than 30 years ago to take care of horses and sometimes I think I do better with horses than with people.
As you may know, I am the trainer for Big Brown, the very talented horse who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness this year. Despite my best efforts and those of the team of people around him, he did not win the Belmont Stakes but that's horseracing. Big Brown is healthy and our plan right now is to keep him racing this summer and fall.
In addition to Big Brown, I am responsible for approximately 150 horses at any one time – 110 in active training and 40-50 at various farms getting ready to race. My operation has about 75 people, including grooms, stable hands, exercise riders, blacksmiths and vets, who care for our horse on a daily basis.
While some people's focus is on the big days, we care about our horses and keeping them safe 365 days a year. Taking care of horses is a way of life for us. Our horses get the best care we can give them. They are gifted athletes and are trained to give their best performance when they run.
During the Triple Crown, I was asked several questions about my past and I expect those will come up today so let me address them.
My barn has been penalized in the past for medication violations. I was suspended and fined five years ago when traces of a prohibited substance, mepivicaine, turned up in a test for one of my horses. I said then that we don't use it and I don't know how it happened.
We have also had violations when legal, permitted, therapeutic medications have shown up in race day tests because they were given to the horse too close to the race. That's something that many trainers in the country have had to deal with. But I take responsibility for the condition of my horses.
During the Triple Crown I told the media that my horses are given Winstrol on the 15th of each month. This is an FDA approved medication and is within the current rules of racing in most states. It is something we started a few years ago at the recommendation of one of our vets.
People have asked me why I do it. My observation is that it helps the horses eat better. Their coats brighten. They're more alert. It helps them train. Having said that, our barn has won hundreds of races with horses that weren't on steroids. Earlier this winter, I won two one million dollar races in Dubai, where steroids are prohibited. If steroids are banned in the United States, we'll stop using them.
I also said that I'm not qualified to speak to the science of it. For that, I would suggest that you talk to the vets and scientific experts.
12:05…During the break, Congressman Whitfield's wife, Connie, has subcommittee staff counsel Fjeld cornered. She, of course, is the vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority accused recently by Kentucky State Sen. Damon Thayer of having a conflict of interest.
Interesting observation about the first panel from a Washington insider: “Well, they got that one set up just like they wanted.” In other words, the subcommittee is pushing for national oversight, and with the exception of Marzelli, all the witnesses said some form of national oversight is necessary.
12:25…Having some technical issues (hey, the Internet's still new, right?).
During some lively (?) questioning from the chair, Arthur Hancock says the veterinarians are getting rich giving all those drugs to horses. Bet Arthur wishes he would have studied harder at Vanderbilt and gone to vet school. Foley and McIlwraith of the AAEP simultaneously lean forward with increased interest.
Moss makes a good comment in response to a question from Whitfield about why people don't want a national authority. “Fear,” Moss says, “fear of lack of control.”
Van Berg sounds bitter talking about these “young guys” who come onto the racetrack and want to win and will do anything to win. “The veterinarians are mostly training the horses now,” he says. “If you don't know what's wrong with the horse yourself, you shouldn't have a trainer's license.”
12:36…Hancock was asked why the various organizations can't work together, and whether any one organization is worse than others. He said no one was worse than others. “Ego has a lot to do with it,” Hancock said. “They all envision themselves as the saviors of racing. They have their own CEO. It's some good people trying to pull a wagon, but they're all pullin' in different directions.
12:43…Whitfield asks Marzelli if the Jockey Club gives money to organizations that rescue or retrain Thoroughbreds for careers after racing. Like a good politician, Marzelli avoids the direct question, talking about the Jockey Club Foundation for human charities and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation that funds research on horse health issues. Whitfield repeats the question. Marzelli responds: “We believe every owner is responsible for their horse.” In other words, the Jockey Club does not support horse rescue/retraining operations. At least the Jockey Club is opposed to slaughtering horses, according to Marzelli…and probably babies, too.
12:48…Second panel, mostly veterinarians reviewing research, so for the next 45 minutes or so I'm going to do all I can to stay awakezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
12:54….Rep. Pitts of Pennsylvania stifles a series of yawns during Dr. Stover's testimony reviewing statistics on fatalities at California racetracks over the past 25 years. Whitfield learns forward and does that squinty thing with his eyes, suggesting he is trying very hard to understand all this data flowing his way. Nowhere near the fireworks of panel one. But wait till Alex Waldrop is up and the subcommittee members turn on him.
1:00…Wayne McIlwraith takes the mike. He is one of the best veterinarians in the business and has probably presented research thousands of times during his distinguished career. If every practitioner at the racetrack had his ethics and knowledge, we wouldn't be in such a mess.
Incidentally, for those who want to read the testimony of the veterinary panel and the previous panel, their written statements will be posted on the subcommittee's web site later today: http://energycommerce.house.gov/Subcommittees/ctcp.shtml
1:10…Dr. Mary Scollay is reading too fast for me to comprehend at this stage, but I think she must have had some Jockey Club Kool-Aid during the break. She said “Jockey Club” a whole lotta times during her review of the research she's been involved with.
1:12….Allie Conrad has a lot of passion for what she does at CANTER Mid Atlantic, and the subcommittee members seem to paying far more attention to her than to the previous veterinary presenters. Perhaps it's because she is talking in layman's terms, or maybe because she is “on message” with what the subcommittee wants to hear. In talking about some of the horses she ends up with at CANTER, she said: “These horses weren't injured from a freak accident or a tragic misstep. They were injured over time with the assistance of trainers, owners, and veterinarians — all who shoud have put the horse's welfare as a higher priority. … Racing is not bothering to take care of its own horses, and are allowing the public — often not even racing fans — to take care of the problems.” Powerful stuff and effective with the committee members, I'll bet.
1:18…Here comes who I bet will be the day's whipping boy, NTRA's Alex Waldrop, who proudly said his organization is a “consensus builder.” Alex sounds defensive already, like he knows what's coming during the Q&A session later. Maybe he can be saved by the bell (when the members have to go vote.)
1:21…Waldrop is almost shouting now. “This industry is no longer a rudderless ship.” Take that Arthur Hancock! “The last thing this industry needs is yet another layer of regulation.”
1:26…Brief question session because of an upcoming vote. Whitfield doesn't ask a question of Waldrop but makes a statement to him: “I don't think it's unreasonable for the government to set minimum standards. I think the first panel displayed very clearly that there are serious problems within the industry.”
1:30…Who's to blame, one Congressman asks, for the drug problems in racing? The consensus answer from the panel: “everyone.”
1:32…Hearing adjourned abruptly for a vote. Alex Waldrop walks away and mutters, “Saved by the bell.” Wonder if he's been reading my blog?
Line of the day from Jack Van Berg when asked what it's like to train horses today: “It's chemical warfare out there?”
That is all for now….
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