Pa. Congressman calls for new federal oversight of horse racing

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Calling the horse racing industry an “embarrassment,” Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa 16th) is calling for a series of national reforms aimed addressing ongoing issues with the use of drugs in horse racing.

“The industry, frankly, is an embarrassment to the rest of the world. The rest of the world has zero tolerance of race-day medication,” said Pitts.

Pitts’ bill (click here to view) would designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as the organization responsible “for ensuring the integrity and safety of those horse races that are the subject of interstate off-track wagers,” according to a Nov. 19 memorandum.

His bill would phase out the use of drugs and medications within 24 hours of a race. It would also phase out a drug known as Lasix, allowing it to be used for two years after enactment on horses at least three-years-old.

Lasix is a diuretic used to help treat horses whose lungs bleed after running, and is supposed to be administered by a veterinarian. However, some trainers have been cited for administering the drug themselves and doing so too close to race time.

“It should be that the horses have best practices as far their rest and recuperation,” said Pitts.

Gretchen Jackson, an owner who has been in the horse racing industry for decades, says she’s concerned Lasix is used too often and not always in the best interest of the horses.

“A lot of these drugs that they’re giving them help to mask huge problems,” said Jackson.

Lawmakers in Washington held a hearing on Pitts’ bill the day before a federal grand jury indicted three trainers and a track employee. The trainers, David Wells, Sam Webb and Patricia Rogers were accused of fraud after allegedly trying to dope horses with medications not permitted within 24 hours of a race. Danny Robertson, who was employed at the track as a clocker, allegedly provided false workout times in exchange for cash.

During the hearing, Philip Hanrahan, the CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, testified in opposition to the bill.

“The NHBPA opposes its enactment because it attempts to address a problem that does not exist,” said Hanrahan. He dismissed concerns about drug abuse at race tracks as “misperception caused by recurrent sensationalism in the public media.”

He added he does not believe USADA has the resources or experience to oversee horse racing.

“Lasix is a very effective drug in preventing bleeding in horses. And, that protects the horse and in turn protects the jockey,” said Hanrahan.

The state-level Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association did not respond to requests for an interview. In a statement, the association said it has worked to improve oversight, saying new security protocols helped to catch two of the people indicted last fall.

“The whole practice is outrageous,” said Pitts. “The United States is where the problem is. We have 24 horses a week being put down,” he said, citing a recent New York Times investigation.

Pitts’ bill has 20 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series on reforms in horse racing. To see part one, click here.


  • Connie A

    Let me say that of course they are going to opose this Bill. There is probably Money Involved! What about the Well Being of these Horses? They cant speak on their own behalf! I wish they would be made to put cameras up in every barn! I have seen and heard about things that goes on Ive been behind the scenes. Not saying there arent good people in the industry. But there are a few I wouldnt trust with my animals. I hope the Bill gets past. That they keep a closer eye on all the people behind the scenes that are involved in the care of these horses. I can say that Ive seen mistreatment also. You should have more qualified professional people caring for them too. I feel sorry for these beautiful animals being used for gambling profits.

  • R J Greener

    I am in the horse racing business, I will be the first to admit that there are people who bend the rules and there are despicable people who do not treat there animals well. But this is not singular to horse racing look around you Professional football players into dog fighting , steroids rampant in all pro sports , atheletes representingthe USA in the tour de france doping . this industry supports thousands of people the industry produces millions upon millions of tax dollars. 99% of the people like most of the other sport related business in this country are good hard working people all of the people I know in horse racing go out of there way to do what is right by their horses we go the extra mile to resque horses that are in danger. My guess is if you are talking about how badly horses are treated you have never been to a barn full of race horses. My horses have there bedding change every morning , the get what amount to a pedicure everyday. They are bathed everyday and feed the best food I can get them and they get the best vet care barring no expense. I have been in the business for 15 years and I have never made a dollar. I love the horses I love the sport and frankly im sick and tired of people who know nothing about what we do, bad mouthing a sport based on hearsay. If you need a cause PLEASE Mr. PITTS you and your fellow politicians should SPEND YOUR OVER PAID DAYS CLEANING UP YOUR OWN HOUSE , CLEAN UP THE CORRUPTION AND MISSUSE OF OUR TAX DOLLARS. When you have done that then come and see us about cleaning up horse racing. Because as far as embarrasments go YOU ARE IN A LEAGUE OF YOUR OWN………….

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