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Racing's reformation?
Congress panel calls on veterinary experts about fatal breakdowns


Industry recommendations

As proof of that, he cited the new re-commendations released by the club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee.

That committee will hold additional meetings over the next 60 days to make recommendations on other issues, including the use of therapeutic medications, illegal drugs, prohibited practices and increased penalties.

When Marzelli told the panel he favors letting the industry continue to reform itself along these lines, Whitfield shot back, "You can only recommend. Do you have the power to put this into effect?"

Marzelli said his group does have "the power of persuasion."

"I think your record would reflect you lack even that power," Whitfield replied.

Another witness, Kentucky owner and breeder Arthur Hancock, agreed with Whitfield that the industry can't or shouldn't be relied upon to regulate itself. "After hundreds of meetings and 28 years, there just doesn't seem to be any urgency," he said.

Track veterinarians criticized

On the issue of drug use in racing, Hancock at one point remarked that "the vets are running the show." Asked by Whitfield to explain that, he cited an incident when "I told the vet I didn't want my horse to get anything. He then asked me, 'You want to win races, don't you?' ... Vets convince the trainers (to inject something) and trainers convince owners," Hancock said. Asked by Schakowsky whether veterinarians are making large profits in this manner, Hancock said he believes they are.

Another owner and breeder, Jess Jackson, told the panel he's seen the number of veterinarians at Santa Anita racetrack in California rise from three to 26 today.

"They used to drive Chevys, but today they all drive BMW's and Cadillacs."

Those comments irked veterinarians and veterinary groups.

Of Hancock's remarks on medications, David L. Foley, CAE, executive director of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), says, "It conveniently removes any responsibility from the actual owner of the horse. This is an industry issue, not just a veterinary one.

"While the veterinarian is uniquely qualified to discuss and evaluate the medical condition of the horse, the owner, trainer and veterinarian should all be communicating about what's in the best interest of the horse."

The AAEP leader, who attended the session, doesn't think veterinarians got a fair chance to speak.

"I wish the subcommittee had seen fit to present a more balanced witness panel," Foley tells DVM Newsmagazine. "The AAEP was not officially asked to provide a witness, nor did the subcommittee request the appearance of an actual racetrack veterinarian, despite our attempts. Veterinarians are the experts on horse health, and the hearing lacked the important expertise and perspective of the racetrack practitioner."

Scollay agrees. "It's unfortunate that not a single practicing racetrack veterinarian was called to speak about the role they play," Scollay said after the hearing. "Whether there's a difference of philosophy between them (the witnesses making statements about veterinarians and possibly the Congress members) and myself, everyone's opinion needs to be heard."

Another witness, trainer Jack Van Berg, told Whitfield drug problems in the industry are serious and pervasive. "It's like chemical warfare," he said.

Rick Dutrow, trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, didn't show up for the hearing.

"I'd like to note the empty place," Schakowsky said. "Apparently Mr. Dutrow is too ill to travel to D.C. Unfortunately, he never informed the committee of his illness."

The panel wanted to ask him why he reportedly gives his horses the currently legal steroid Winstrol once a month. In written testimony submitted earlier, however, Dutrow told the committee why he approves of giving his horses steroids. "It helps horses eat better, their coats brighten, they're more alert. It helps them train."

One of the final witnesses, Allie Conrad, who heads a group called CANTER Mid Atlantic that helps injured horses that are forced out of racing, told the subcommittee that such horses "go through a terrible, terrible withdrawal period" from various drugs.

Who should regulate industry?

Currently, the Interstate Horse Racing Act (IHRA) is the only federal regulation of racing, allowing off-track betting and simulcasting. Medication, drug testing and betting are regulated by the states.

But that could change.

The first announcement said the hearing would "examine the fact that horse racing lacks a central regulatory authority like other sports leagues, such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball, and has been very slow to address longstanding problems plaguing the sport. Given the unique benefits of the IHRA to the racing industry, the hearing will play an oversight role in determining whether the special status of the sport under federal law is still warranted."

Wrapping up the testimony, Alex Waldrop, the NTRA's president and CEO, agreed with the Jockey Club's Marzelli that the industry can and will do a good job of regulating itself if given the opportunity.

"This industry is no longer a rudderless ship," he said. "We've proven (referring to the Jockey Club committee's work) that we can act quickly and effectively. The last thing this industry needs is another level of bureaucracy."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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