April 29, 2010

Udall & Whitfield Seek Answers from Horseracing Industry

Raise Serious Questions on Anti-Doping Enforcement

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., and U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield, R- Ky., have contacted prominent horse racing organizations to raise questions about performance enhancing drug use within the industry. The elected officials argue that in order to protect animal welfare and ensure integrity in the "Sport of Kings," the well-documented abuses must be eliminated.

In separate letters to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, The Jockey Club and Racing Commissioners International, Udall and Whitfield -- who both serve on key Congressional committees with jurisdiction over the sport - ask each organization for specific progress by the industry in areas of animal welfare, jockey safety and sporting integrity since Congress last formally examined these issues in 2008.

They also cite the troubling example of a leading trainer who was fined and suspended this year after a filly tested positive for a class 3 drug. The same trainer was suspended in 2004 for a violation involving a nerve-blocking agent and class 2 drug.

"In spite of this dubious track record," the members of Congress write, "this trainer may enter up to four horses in the upcoming Kentucky Derby. This is just one of many examples of trainers who seemingly suffer minimal consequences for repeated medication violations."

Administering steroids, painkillers and other drugs to racehorses can ensure that they run as fast as possible while masking the pain that would otherwise provide warnings to help prevent catastrophic injury for the horse and jockey.

Although horseracing is a major professional sport that generates $40 billion dollars each year and 500,000 jobs nationwide, the industry lacks a governing body or league that is capable of imposing mandatory regulations for universal compliance.

"Horse racing, like boxing, is instead regulated at the state level by state racing commissions, which results in tracks around the country operating under different policies and rules. This lack of central governance thus complicates efforts to root out cheating, deter illegal drug-use, and ensure safe racing conditions," the officials wrote.

The dramatic breakdown of the filly Eight Belles shortly after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby shocked the public and sparked scrutiny of practices in the sport.

After Eight Belle's breakdown, Whitfield led a committee hearing to examine threats to the integrity and safety of the sport and explored the challenges facing the horse racing industry. He has long sought to rid the sport of performance enhancing drugs.

In Kentucky, home to the world's most prestigious horse race, the industry sustains 100,000 jobs and has a $4 billion dollar economic impact annually.

New Mexico's racing industry contributes an estimated $400 million to the state economy and sustains 10,000 jobs. It's experienced a boost since local horse Mine That Bird won the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Last month, the derby held in Sunland Park, the home racetrack for the 2009 winner, attracted more than 18,500 fans and nearly $2.8 million in wagers -- the most ever bet on a New Mexico track in one day.

Earlier this year, the New Mexico Racing Commission updated its doping and medication rules to strictly limit use of Clenbuterol, which has some therapeutic uses but is also a performance-enhancing drug. In 2008, the state racing commission also stepped up testing for this class 3 drug after some trainers purchased a non-pharmaceutical grade version in Mexico to use on their racehorses.

Udall and Whitfield have asked for replies before next month's running of the Preakness Stakes, which is the second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown series.

Read the letters below:

Letter to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association

Letter to The Jockey Club

Letter to Racing Commissioners International