07/17/2008 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Congressman sees legislative action as a positive

Last month, the U.S. Congress held a hearing to examine the state of the horse racing industry in America. The voices of those who testified rang loud and clear across the country, and an overwhelming consensus was reached on four key issues plaguing the Sport of Kings.

The first is that far too often horses are given performance-enhancing drugs and painkillers to ensure they run as fast as possible, while masking pain that may have provided a warning to avert a catastrophic injury for the horse and the jockey.

The second is a lack of uniformity of applicable drug rules and data-collection statistics regarding track accidents and safety issues among the 38 separate state racing jurisdictions.

The third is the excess number of drug labs in the United States - 18 today - and their inadequate funding to ensure quality and accurate testing.

The fourth is the absence of any one entity with the authority or power to enforce uniformity in myriad regulations across state lines.

Horse racing is a $40 billion a year industry in the United States and generates more than 500,000 jobs nationwide. It is also a part of our nation's history and a cherished tradition. Anyone who has spent a day at the races at Keeneland, Del Mar, or Saratoga, or attended the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, has reveled in the beauty of the horses, the pageantry of the event, romanticism of the sport, and the skill of the jockeys.

When, however, the American people read news stories about the rampant use of drugs administered to the horses and see it described as "chemical warfare"; when they see an Associated Press report that more than 5,000 horses have died from injuries on racetracks since 2003; when they see the life-threatening injuries suffered by jockeys riding the horses; and when they discover the number of horses who are sent to slaughter every year after falling into the lowest claiming races, horse racing becomes less appealing.

In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 38 percent of those polled wanted to ban horse racing.

I do not want to see that happen and do not believe it will. I do, however, strongly believe that Congress can help the industry solve its problems and do so without creating an expensive new federal agency.

Congress can help because it can adopt minimum standards or guidelines for excellence, control, and uniformity among the 38 racing jurisdictions. Just as important, Congress can enforce the minimum standards through the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.

The industry came to Congress in 1978 and asked the federal government to become involved in horse racing by adopting legislation to allow the simulcast signal across state lines without interference or obstacles. Congress obliged and did not ask anything from the industry.

Today, simulcasting provides 85 percent of the revenue for horse racing, but the industry has not been able to solve the serious issues it faces. It is time for action. I propose that Congress set minimum standards in the 1978 Act and require state racing authorities to adopt those standards to continue receiving the benefits of simulcasting.

The federal government working with industry leaders and groups can solve the problems and ensure a strong, safe, and vibrant sport for future generations.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky - Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection

Fine trainer dogged by bad press

I am dismayed and puzzled by the media coverage exemplified by the June 27 article, "Two positives at top barns."

Would it be so awful to have the public understand that the vast majority of trainers are in fact not the Darth Vaders of the racing world?

Yes, Rick Dutrow's pre-Derby and Preakness swagger gave many every reason to dislike the guy, but wouldn't it also be fair to recognize that he did in fact back up that swagger twice under enormous pressure? It was an outstanding training job he did just getting Big Brown to the Derby.

Don't let the "Hey, babe" fool you - this guy can train a horse. Any good handicapper has known that for years and now might be a good a time as any to let the general public in on that fact.

Having worked in this industry for a good part of my life, I'll be the first to admit that we have countless issues that must first be exposed and then addressed, but I don't believe Rick Dutrow is one of them.

Brian Ludwick - Lexington, Ky.

Racing in need of authority figure

After reading the June 21 article "Lines drawn over regulation," I am optimistic something will be done about the drugs in racing. It is too bad government has to get involved, but something must be done.

Racing's situation reminds me of a large company having money problems caused by poor management or no management. Those in executive positions inevitably look elsewhere to place blame.

Perhaps, as has been suggested in the past, it is time that racing have a strong commissioner or czar with the power to make decisions for the best interests of horsemen and horseplayers alike.

Wayne L. Gunter - Belvidere, Ill.