EXPERTS IN DELAY?

by John Scheinman, Thoroughbred Times

Some of the leading names in Thoroughbred racing gathered Thursday before members of the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection and asked for congressional help to remedy problems of on-track deaths of horses, medication, and breeding that plague the industry.

The twin themes of the hearing in Washington were racing’s inability to execute uniform policy across its 38 governing jurisdictions as well as a sport overrun by damaging drug use in horses.

“If you raise a point on one thing in the industry, someone else will oppose it,” said prominent owner-breeder Jess Jackson, majority owner of 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin. “We always say we can do it ourselves…we need to study it more. …We are experts at delay.”

In his testimony before the subcommittee, Jackson pointed to what he called “root causes: the lack of a national and responsible horse owners’ organization; the lack of transparency in industry practices; the lack of uniform standards; and, most importantly, the lack of accountability and enforceability.”

“It is clear to me that most of the industry’s present ills stem from the fact that we are a national, or international, sport that has no competent central regulating body or federal authority mandating uniformity in the United States,” Jackson said.

U.S. Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Florida) said that a bill leading to the creation of a national horse racing commission likely would be submitted in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Stearns, who represents the Ocala district, said the bill would also mandate a national database for the tracking of horses and causes of death.

“We would have some type of commission like in the [National Basketball Association] or [National Football League] that would bridge all 50 states,” he said. “This is all to get [the industry] to move. If they don’t do something, we will.”

Stearns and Representative Edward Whitfield (R-Kentucky) both pointed toward federal laws that can be used like “a hammer or a stick” to promote change.

With approximately 88% of the $14.7-billion wagered on racing last year coming from off-track sources, the simulcasting rights provided by the Interstate Horse Racing Act and the exemptions for racing in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 are critical components of the sport that can be withdrawn if problems plaguing the industry are not addressed.

“If the federal government provides the vehicle for the revenue — simulcasting — we have an obligation to ensure the integrity of the sport,” Whitfield said.

The first panel featured Jockey Club President Alan Marzelli, California Horse Racing Board Chairman Richard Shapiro, owner-breeder Arthur Hancock, Jackson, ESPN racing analyst Randy Moss, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.

Richard Dutrow Jr., trainer of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Big Brown was scheduled to appear, but decided against it late Wednesday, citing a virus he has had for several days. A second panel featured University of California-Davis veterinarian Sue Stover, University of Pennsylvania veterinarian Larry Soma, track statistician Mary Scollay D.V.M., veterinary orthopedic surgeon Wayne McIlwraith, and National Thoroughbred Racing Association President Alex Waldrop.

Shapiro called for a national regulatory charter for racing but said federal intervention should only be a “last resort.”

Marzelli and Waldrop both told the subcommittee they believe the industry is capable of undertaking change without government help. Marzelli pointed to the steroid ban called for this week by the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee. The committee also called for new whip rules and barring toe-grab shoes.

Whitfield, however, said the Jockey Club is powerless to enact those changes.

When the subcommittee asked the panelists about the use of drugs in horses, Van Berg said, “It’s like chemical warfare.”

Soma said the majority of reports indicate that furosemide — or Salix — does not prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging in horses yet can have performance-enhancing effects.

Hancock, lamenting vet bills that run as high as $2,000 a month, said, “A couple years ago, I was at Keeneland and I told a vet, ‘I don’t want my horses to get anything unless they’re sick,’ and he said, ‘Arthur, you want to win, don’t you?’ I got the picture.”

When asked who was to blame for the rampant use of drugs in the sport—vets, owners, or trainers—most panelists said all three.Visit the subcommittee’s homepage for more information on this hearing, as well as a transcript of the testimony when it becomes available.

Arthur Hancock III, president of Stone Farm, second from right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 19,2008, before the House Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee hearing. From left are, hall of fame trainer Jack Van Berg; ESPN analyst Randy Moss; Hancock; and Jess Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Farm and Kendall-Jackson wine fame. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

National Thoroughbred Racing Association Chief Executive Officer Alexander Waldrop testifies on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The owners of the late horse Barbaro, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, attend the House Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection subcommittee hearing. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)