by Jeff Lowe

Horsemen’s organizations were among several industry factions whose representatives were surprised and concerned that they did not have a voice in the congressional hearing on drugs and horse racing on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International also did not receive a place at the table among 13 witnesses who were invited to testify in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection’s hearing titled “Breeding, Drugs and Breakdowns.”

With trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. absent due to an illness, a dozen witnesses testified, and a majority of them agreed that the racing industry needs a national governing body. Members of the committee indicated that legislation would be proposed this year for some form of federal regulation on the industry.

“Unfortunately, we watched it on C-SPAN,” said Joe Santanna, chairman of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “Unfortunately, we weren’t there to indicate that there’s proof positive that well before [Eight Belles’s fatal breakdown in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1)] there was already the self-regulation of medication issues, which is an ongoing process, in place. Maybe we just didn’t do a very good job of announcing that. I can’t explain why we didn’t get an opportunity to express that in the public forum that occurred this week.”
Santanna cited the recent adoption of steroid regulations in 11 states as evidence that the industry has been moving forward on its own.

“I understand the public reaction to Eight Belles, and I believe as a horse owner that it was tragic, but we have been working on it,” Santanna said. “It’s not as if we’ve been asleep at the wheel. Those things do tend to accentuate the issues.”

Jim Gallagher, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said he was disappointed that the hearing lacked context on the issue of therapeutic medications.

“When we’re talking about therapeutic medications that are routinely given to horses, there’s got to be a distinction made on that front,” Gallagher said. “I don’t hear anyone saying exactly what illegal drugs are being used. People just throw it out there like it’s gospel. We need a lot more informed opinion as opposed to getting people up there, and then the people doing the questioning are pontificating when they’re actually pretty clueless on the state of the game.”

The subcommittee submitted a letter to Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, asking for, among other things, statistics on drug infractions and on-track injuries. Martin submitted a detailed answer, but he was not invited to testify. He was surprised.

“They have not run any ideas past us, and we would encourage them to widen the circle that they’re talking to,” Martin said. “I think people have a false impression that if you create one central authority the state racing commissions will go away. They will not. So the danger here is that you could take a situation and make it worse. You can make it better by being cognizant of the problems the state racing commissions face. One of them is funding. For drug testing, for wagering security, those are the two main challenges that state racing commissions face. I don’t know of a racing commission in the country that is not under the gun when it comes to state budget processes.

(Photo above: Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., asks question of the witness on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 19,2008. Subcommittee chair Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. is at left. AP Photo/Susan Walsh)