- Jul 12, 2006
WASHINGTON - Congress chided Big Brown's trainer for a lack of manners and the horse racing industry for failing to do enough to regulate itself. Then it threatened to pass legislation that would make the sport safer.
Rick Dutrow's no-show did not sit well at Thursday's hearing on thoroughbred racing safety held by the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Dutrow on Wednesday told The Associated Press that he was too ill to attend, but he remained on the witness list - there was even a symbolic name card for him at the table - because he apparently failed to tell those in charge.
"I'm disappointed by his absence," said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, who ran the hearing as vice chairwoman of the committee. "I'm disappointed that he did not feel the need to notify the subcommittee of his decision, given Mr. Dutrow's stature and reputation in the sport, I think he would have been a valuable addition to this public dialogue."
Dutrow, whose star horse was a favourite to win the Triple Crown before a stunning last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, did provide a statement to the committee in which he discussed his checkered record, including his use of anabolic steroids on horses.
"People have asked me why I do it," the statement said. "My observation is that it helps the horses eat better. Their coats brighten. They're more alert. It helps them train."
Dutrow added that "if steroids are banned in the United States, we'll stop using them."
The sentiment for a steroid ban was strong among those at the hearing. There was less of a consensus as to how a sport without an authoritative governing body can attain such a goal and enact other uniform standards.
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, was among those not in favour of federal intervention.
"The last thing this industry needs is another layer of bureaucracy," Waldrop said. "A 'Department of Horse-land Security' funded by yet another tax on our long-suffering customers is not what we need."
Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, the subcommittee's ranking Republican, felt otherwise. He pointed out that Congress has leverage to influence the sports because of the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which grants simulcasting rights that now account for much of the industry's profits.
"We're not persuaded by Mr. Waldrop," Whitfield said. "Mr. Waldrop has the very best intentions, but he does not have the authority to do anything. I think that we are going to be looking at some legislation to deal with this."
The hearing was called after Eight Belles broke down at the Kentucky Derby last month and was euthanized on the track. Subsequent surveys have discovered thousands of racing-related horse deaths in recent years.