06/20/2008 12:00AM

Panel's witness choices criticized

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A hearing held on Thursday in Washington, D.C., focusing on problems in horse racing did not include a representative sampling of the people involved in the sport who would most be affected by any wide-ranging reform of the industry, several racing officials contended on Friday.

The racing officials questioned the motivations of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection in putting together a witness list that did not include a representative of horsemen's groups or veterinary associations. Any change to the industry's regulatory structure or its existing medication rules - as discussed at the hearing - would be acutely felt by those groups, the racing officials said.

Ed Martin, the executive director of the Association of Racing Commissioners International - an umbrella group for state racing regulatory bodies - credited the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, for opening a dialogue on problems facing the sport. But he also said that he hoped any additional hearings would include representatives of horsemen, racetrack veterinarians, and state racing commissions.

"I think Congressman Whitfield is sincere in tackling these issues," Martin said. "He's seeking input. But it would behoove him to widen his circle of advisers on who should appear at these hearings. The horsemen and the practicing veterinarians are a very important part of the industry, and they should be a part of this dialogue."

Congressional leaders on the panel suggested that the racing industry would be better served by a federal commission, instead of relying on regulation at the state level. In addition, many racing representatives on the panel issued calls to ban the race-day administration of all drugs. Currently, every racing state allows the administration of the diuretic furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, on race days, and many racing jurisdictions also allow the use of one or more painkillers within 48 hours of a race.

Alan Foreman, the executive director of the National Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, a collection of horsemen's groups principally based in the Mid-Atlantic, said that the witnesses frequently mischaracterized the state of the racing industry by issuing "blanket statements" that lacked context and proof.

"It was a hearing designed to bring in people with certain viewpoints that supported the subcommittee's notion of federal oversight," Foreman said. "And yet you had no one at the hearing who could explain how federal regulation would be better for the sport. And that's because I don't believe you can make a case for that."

Foreman credited the states in the Mid-Atlantic for adopting nearly identical medication rules over the past eight years, and said that if he was asked to testify, he would have pointed out that the industry has made progress in adopting uniform rules on a state-by-state level.

"I really don't think they want to hear that view," Foreman said. "I'd be chomping at the bit to testify in front of Congress and provide some factual information as to why that's true."

Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said that he was distressed by the amount of criticism of trainers and veterinarians expressed at the hearing.

"At the end of the day, the people who lead those horses over to the paddock are horsemen, whatever you want to call them," Bellocq said. "We need trainers, and to paint them all as evil-doers, I thought that was unfair. These are people who truly care about their horses."

Members of the subcommittee have said that they will likely schedule an additional hearing in the future before introducing legislation that will address the issues raised at the hearings.