Congressman Joe Pitts (PA-16) chaired a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee looking into health of jockeys and horses involved in horseracing. The hearing was held at Unionville High School in Chester County's East Marlborough Township, the heart of Pennsylvania horse country. Witnesses testified about the relationship between drugs and horse breakdowns on tracks.
"Today's hearing was about protecting the lives of both horses and jockeys who ride them," said Congressman Pitts. "There is great concern that an increase in horses breaking down on the track can be blamed on overuse and misuse of equine medications."
The subcommittee heard from hall of fame jockey Gary Stevens, a multiple Kentucky Derby winner, and local thoroughbred owners Gretchen Jackson and George Strawbridge. Mrs. Jackson and her husband were the owners of Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Other witnesses included owners, trainers, a veterinarian, and the director of the Center of Equine Health at the University of California Davis.
Witnesses testified that a cocktail of performance enhancing drugs and pain killers lead horses to ignore small injuries that become catastrophic during a race. Recent articles in The New York Times reported an increase in breakdowns and horse deaths nationwide.
Currently, horse racing is governed by a patchwork of state laws and horseracing associations. While trainers can be fined for abuses, penalties are usually minor and can be escaped by moving to other states. State agencies, concerned about driving business away, have been leery of cracking down on dangerous and illegal drug use.
"Federal law enables simulcast betting on races, which makes up some 80 percent of industry income," said Congressman Pitts. "If the industry and states cannot prevent injuries and deaths, the federal government may need to step in and promote national standards. Today, we looked closer at my colleague Congressman Ed Whitfield's (KY) legislation, the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act."