Witnesses at Hearing Urge Congress to Enlist Antidoping Agency and Save Horse Racing

By as published in the New York Times

“I was stunned by the lengths some trainers will go to win races,”

horse racingWASHINGTON — The United States Anti-Doping Agency is the last and best hope to return safety and integrity to the troubled sport of thoroughbred racing, members of the industry told Congress at a hearing Thursday.

The hearing, the fourth of its kind since 2008, focused on how the use of performance-enhancing drugs has eroded the sport’s popularity — and its bottom line.

“I was stunned by the lengths some trainers will go to win races,” Jesse M. Overton, a former racing commissioner in Minnesota, told a House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. “There is no drug or compound that has not been tried in horses, from EPO and anabolic steroids to frog juice and cobra venom. And I promise there are chemists right now working up new, illegal, undetectable substances to give a trainer who wants a performance advantage, especially if he doesn’t have the fastest horse.”

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would give the antidoping agency, known as Usada, the authority to develop rules for permitted and prohibited substances, and it would also create testing and stiffer penalty programs for horse racing nationally, replacing the patchwork state-by-state system now in place.

“Unless drug testing is conducted uniformly and in state-of-the-art laboratories, unscrupulous horsemen will continue to cheat the system, the horses and the fans,” Overton said.

Usada, a nongovernmental organization, is the official antidoping agency for the United States Olympics team and has worked with Major League Baseball and other professional leagues to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs. It was a key player in the investigation of Lance Armstrong, who admitted that he had systematically used drugs during his racing career.

Its chief executive, Travis Tygart, compared horse racing now to the Olympic Games of the 1990s, when shoddy drug testing and loose standards cast suspicion over athletes and eroded public confidence in international sports. That crisis led to the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999 and a commitment from governments around the globe to follow a uniform standard.

“Make no mistake, the win-at-all-costs culture is alive and well and will flourish in every sport including horse racing, if we do not take decisive action to stop the take-no-prisoners competition from running wild,” Tygart said.

Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, who sponsored the bill with Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, cited recent poll numbers by the Jockey Club that showed how far public confidence had fallen in the sport even among its biggest bettors. Nearly four in five bettors — 79 percent — factored in the possibility of illegal drug use when handicapping races at certain tracks or in certain states. The money wagered in North America has fallen precipitously over the last seven years, to about $11 billion this year from nearly $15.5 billion in 2007.

Phil Hanrahan, chief executive of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, insisted horse racing is a clean sport. He pointed to the relatively few positive tests that are found from state to state.

Hanrahan said that the proposed bill “attempts to address a problem that does not exist,” and that Usada had “neither the experience nor the resources” to regulate the industry.

Dr. Lawrence Soma of the University of Pennsylvania testing laboratory conceded that he and his colleagues had difficulty identifying protein-based drugs and peptides and did not have the money to develop new tests to stay ahead of rogue trainers and veterinarians.

“There still are a number of drugs that are problematic,” Soma said. “I’m sure there are many more coming along.”

Pitts also asked Hanrahan about a report in The New York Times that showed that a horse named Coronado Heights received 17 injections the week before he broke down and was euthanized at Aqueduct in 2012. The horse had been found to have a degenerative joint disease and was trained by Todd Pletcher, a Kentucky Derby winner who is currently the nation’s leading trainer.

“I’m not a veterinarian,” Hanrahan replied.

The report was part of a Times investigation that identified the nation’s most dangerous racetracks, and showed how a pervasive drug culture among veterinarians and trainers put horses and riders at risk. The investigation found that 24 horses a week die at America’s tracks, a rate greater than in countries where drug use is severely restricted.

Dr. Sheila Lyons, an equine veterinarian, said in her testimony that the injections were motivated by a desire for the horse to keep racing, rather than a concern for its health. “There was nothing therapeutic about the drugs in that horse,” she said. “They were injury-masking drugs that were stacked.”

Up to a dozen members of Congress attended the hearing, and the bill appeared to have bipartisan support. Several members noted that horse racing remains a significant industry that sustains some 380,000 jobs nationwide.

“Ultimately, drugs and breakdowns are bad for business,” Tygart said.

12 comments on “Witnesses at Hearing Urge Congress to Enlist Antidoping Agency and Save Horse Racing

  1. You’re Up Late RT. Interesting That They Would Be Pushing For An anti Doping Law Foot Race Horses. Is This The Way To Clear Them For Slaughter Or Does Somebody Really Care About The Horses Health?

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  2. There were 4 arrests at Penn National Track this week, 3 trainers and a clocker.

    And why do people write their posts with capital letters for each word??

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  3. These low life people are what gives Horse racing a Bad Rap !!!!!!!! I say throw the BOOK at them !!!!! Horse racing houses thousands of horses, feeds and truly cares for them , it is these types of people who need to be excommunicated from Horse Racing………………………………….

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  4. Perhaps if they weren’t raced so young there would also be less injury and breakdowns. There also would be less horses discarded and sent to slaughter because of injuries and more value to people in the dressage, eventing and jumper world.

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    • Michelle, there are many issues that need to be addressed in Horse Racing for it to survive , there is no time like the present to get this done !!!! i spend lots of time studying a race Track very close to me !!!!!!I find everytime all in all I have found that the trainers , Owners Love and Care for their Horses , its those again low life people filled with Greed that wreck it !!!!! We all Know a Horse is built for running , they krave and love it , they love the competition , many think at the end of the race they have Won it, and have to be Dragged away from going to the Winners Circle , rid Racing of Greed filled people who only care is themselves and you make this again the Sport of Kings !!!!!! And have housing and loving care for thousands of Horses !!!!!! That if not for Horse Racing WHERE WOULD THEY ALL GO?????????It is worth fixing for Sure !!!!!!

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  5. Let me explain after 4 generations in horses, slaughter and competitive corruption is not just a party for horse racing.. ..they have found it in rodeo, barrel racing, pole bending, western pleasure, harness racing, literally every sport and i will attest that soring doesnt even delve into the drug issue in walkers. The reason slaughter exists is to get out of corrupt ties to doping so they can continue uninterrupted by pesky testing, getting suspended, or jail time. This is through every industry of competitive horse shows or racing. A blind eye is turned by paid off officials and the good old boy routine goes on. For anyone who is shocked, then you have NOT been on the inside of the real industry, corrupt trainers in every breed and every style of riding. Sorry but thats the facts, oh there are people who wouldnt dream of it, but they are not always winning ot constantly competing.

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  6. Trainers and veterinarians keep injured horses racing when they should be recovering by giving them a variety of legal drugs to mask pain and control inflammation. This leads to breakdowns because horses are able to run when, without the drugs, the pain would otherwise prevent them from trying.

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