04/30/2012 1:31PM

House members hear pro-government regulation, anti-medication testimony


Members of the racing industry who support the passage of federal legislation to regulate the sport and ban the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide made their cases on Monday in front of a House subcommittee hearing held at a school in Pennsylvania.

With frequent invocations of alleged drug abuse in racing, the panelists, which included a Hall of Fame jockey, several trainers, three owner-breeders, and two veterinarians, appeared before the subcommittee in an effort to push for a bill that would hand authority over the sport to the federal government. Three members of the 27-member Subcommittee on Health attended the hearing, along with two other House representatives from Pennsylvania. All five representatives are Republicans.

The hearing lasted 2 ½ hours, during which all but one of the panelists, the trainer Ken McPeek, said that the alleged use of drugs was both widespread and crippling the sport. All eight panelists said that they supported the federal legislation, which has been introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, though McPeek said that he supported the bill as a way to simplify the array of regulations that are applied to trainers in the 38 different racing jurisdictions in the U.S.

The hearing was an outgrowth of the effort led by many high-profile organizations in racing, including the Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the Breeders’ Cup, to push for reforms that would ban the use of furosemide and possibly limit the use of other drugs. Simultaneously, the hearing was held against a backdrop in which the sport’s record on catastrophic injuries has come under close scrutiny, including in two articles in the New York Times that have contended that drug use and lax state regulation have significantly contributed to racetrack deaths. The second article in the multi-part series was published in the Times on Monday morning.

One of the panelists, George Strawbridge, a Pennsylvania breeder who races under the name Augustin Stable, told the subcommittee members that the sport has gained a “negative perception” because of the use of drugs, and he urged the committee members to push for the bill. Another was Gretchen Jackson, whose Lael Stable owned and bred Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who broke down in the Preakness and ultimately had to be euthanized from complications of the injury. Jackson told the committee members that “drugs have insidiously penetrated into the world of horseracing, endangering both horse and rider.”

Kathryn Papp, a racetrack practitioner based in Pennsylvania, said during her testimony that the abuse of both performance-enhancing drugs and therapeutic medications was “widespread,” though her testimony principally focused on the use of therapeutic drugs, which are regulated by state law. And Glenn Thompson, a trainer in New Jersey who last year self-published a book alleging widespread drug abuse among rival trainers, said that “there is a culture of drugs that has taken over racing,” while saying that the vast majority of trainers abuse drugs.

Panel members, including the chairman, Joe Pitts, appeared to take the panelists at their word, and many cited the New York Times articles as proof that the sport has a drug problem. However, as Republicans, the panelists could run into problems with their leadership if they plan to push a bill increasing federal regulation, and several, including Whitfield, pointedly noted during the hearing that he has personal reservations against federal oversight. His statement was echoed by Rep. Michael Burgess, from Texas.

“Sometimes our involvement creates new and unforeseen problems,” Burgess said.

Critics of the sport’s use of drugs have pushed for federal legislation because of unsuccessful efforts to achieve medication reform at the state level. For the most part, those efforts have been blocked by trainer’s groups, who contend that the use of drugs is already highly regulated by state racing commissions, and that the use of furosemide on raceday is an effective treatment for bleeding in the lungs.

Dr. Greg Ferraro, a former racetrack practitioner who since 1998 has been the director of the Center for Equine Health at University of California-Davis, said that he had formerly supported the use of furosemide on raceday and the liberal use of painkillers as a way to help horses withstand the rigors of racing and training. But he said he had come to believe he was mistaken after seeing little progress being made in reducing injuries at tracks, and he said that he now supported federal legislation.

“There is virtually no way in which you are going to get any kind of consistent rules to control these drugs without it,” Ferraro said.

McPeek was the only panelist who said that drugs are not commonly abused, and he countered statements about “reckless disregard” for racehorse health by saying that the treatment of injuries and the use of drugs was a complex issue. He also said that drugs do not have the capabilities that some critics ascribe to them, citing one of the horses he trained, Tejano Run, who was second in the 1995 Kentucky Derby.

“You could feed him rocks and Budweiser and he’d still go out and win,” McPeek said about the horse.

Shot back Thompson: “That’d be because of the Budweiser, they’d say.”

Kevin More than 1 year ago
What's this; Republicans ready to introduce regulatory oversight of an industry in order to protect horses (but not humans) from abuse? I bet if those horses could somehow form a "horses union" to protect themselves from abuse, Republicans would legalize horse slaughter nationally (inside of an hour);encourage it, and most likely subsidize it.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Two things: a) once the Feds get involved, THEY might actually provide subsides to the sport. b) Budweiser was a terrible choice as even they are no longer an American owned company (hint: Bud is owned by a Belgium conglomerate - yes, Spuds rolls in his grave). Something has to change or the sport is dead. And then nobody wins.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
or subsidies as the suds subside
Todd Roberts More than 1 year ago
Plus, once they (the feds) get involved, you can never get them out. All they will do is take more and more and more power.
Todd Roberts More than 1 year ago
Why would anyone want the federal government to oversee our sport? They don't have a clue on most things, are open to the whims of public perception (which is often mistaken or ill-informed), and the feds' track-record on just about everything is abhorrent (see managing the federal debt, Social Security, Medicare, the GSA scandal, Fast and Furious, and on and on and on and on). Mark my words, if the feds get involved, the sport is going to be much, much worse-off.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The reason why someone would want federal oversight of the sport is because the individual racing jurisdictions simply can't, don't, or won't do enough on their own. Kentucky tries to do the right thing, they get voted down on a 7-7 tie regarding a drug restriction. New York suspends a known cheat, he ties it up with appeals and is allowed to go on racing. You get owners and trainers caught up with drug positives, and they get suspended, but they transfer things around so they can evade punishment. If racing is unable or refuses to do right by their own sport, then maybe an outside party should try and clean it up. I don't expect federal regulation will happen. I can hope only that the threat of the government stepping in and doing things that shake up the status quo can scare the hell out of each jurisdiction so that real reforms can take place, instead of threatening and failing, or just apathy. The sport needs to clean up and police itself with weapons in the arsenal, and not just paper placeholders until someone can come up with something better.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Well said. George Strawbridge is an anomaly. So was Paul Mellon. The trouble is that nearly everyone else today is a lightweight by comparison, and on Saturday every horse that goes to post in the Kentucky Derby will be loaded up with everything known to man. Every year I just pray that there isn't a chuck-wagon-style pile-up. As Gary Stevens said...until North American racing changes its medication rules to conform with the rest of the world, it will continue to go downhill.
Don Doran More than 1 year ago
Calls should be for a national database for all veterinary medical records of racehorses competing in pari-mutuel to be available to racing regulators. A point system to identify excessive pharmaceutical intervention would begin to eliminate the most blatant abuses by prohibiting these horses from running based on their compilation of points within a period of time. http://www.thoroughbred-performance-consultants.com/Video-1.html
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
the reason someone like trainer mcpeek can get up there and blantantly lie and say there is no drug abuse in racing with a straight face is because the politicians have no clue,otherwise they would call im out on that,NO DRUG ABUSE PROBLEM IN HORSERACING are you kidding?,the funny thing is as a trainer he knows exactly what goes on,that kind of testamony flies in the face of what these days every one with a pulse already knows including the $2 bettor,the owners are payng for all these treatments they certanly know,the trainers and the vets are at the center they know,every jockey knows,and any one who ever bought a horse from a racetrack and watched them go thru drug and steroid withdrawl knows,just ask the stable people at the stud farms they know, lets get real here this is the worst kept secret in the world,the europeans and asians dont want to purchase our horses anymore they too know,mcpeeks statments are exibit 1 for why the feds should step in the racing establishment will fight every inch to keep the status quo,there are many reasons for this from a culture of cheating and charging owners for stuff that the owners know full well are drug treatments but dont dare ask, to just plain having an advantage over smaller operators who cant afford the latest drugs,only federal oversight and tough regulation of this industry will clean it up,right now trainers and jockeys have a license to steal from the betting public and the industry simply does not care,just look at their record a trainer gets multiple infractions over a span of 15 years and is still out there winning and is suspension is never enforced,a jockey pulls up a horse 2 furlongs from the wire says he misjudged the finish line gets a 3 day suspension(been at the track for 7 years still doesnt know were the finish is?),i could go on and on and name names,like the miracle trainers who can move a horse up 30 beyer points in 2 weeks after claiming from a hall of fame trainer who could not win with the same horse,so mr mcpeek if youre winning and defending the tatus quo im pretty sure your horses are not eating rocks and drinking budwiser,unless those rocks are ?????
Glenn Thompson More than 1 year ago
I was on the panel and McPeek was talking out of both sides of his mouth. To his credit he does have a great group of followers. The " We Want More Drugs For Horses Group" I did an experiment the last couple of days. I had a horse in today at the Medowlands and would have normaly given him at least a shot of bute the day before and possibly some azium to go with it. His name was Mad Dancer. My thoughts are that the prerace meds that we are treating the horses with are causing them to bleed. He went off at over 100 to 1 and finished sixth but was only beaten 3 lenghts. Scoped him after the race and not a speck of blood. I was very happy with the way he ran as he has not raced in over six months. Very small vet bill and no bleeding problem!! I am going to take him off of lasix next time and we will see what happens. I am going to start a blog at my website www.sportofkingsbook.com so stay tuned and see what happens. I am also going to be discussing my other horses treatments as we go along. I am trying very hard to get Monmouth Park to ban all drugs for two year olds this year and hope the rest of the country does it as well. We need one track to step up and be a leader and look out for the horses!! I hope it is Monmouth Park but at this point I would be happy with anyone!! I could use some support on this so I hope the good guys joing in!!