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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - Medication and Performance Enhancing Drugs in Horse Racing


Location: Washington, DC

Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here today. I want to first thank Senator Rockefeller and Senator Hutchison for their support in holding this hearing. And also thanks to our distinguished panelists. I look forward to your testimony.

Horseracing has a proud heritage. It is a majestic sport. But, the sport has run off the rails.

The chronic abuse of horses with painkillers and other drugs is just plain wrong. And it is dangerous. An injured horse, feeling no pain, continues to charge down the track. This endangers every horse. It endangers every rider. And, in the long run, it endangers the sport itself.

Unlike other sports, horseracing lacks a commission or league office that can issue uniform rules. State racing commissions routinely impose small fines and short suspensions. There is minimal deterrence. And chronic doping continues unabated.

Meanwhile, horse racing enjoys a privilege that no other sport does: simulcast gambling across state lines.

Congress passed the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, the "IHA," to allow betting across state lines for horseracing. This statute was amended in 2000 -- at the request of the racing industry -- to allow Internet and telephone betting. And in 2006, when Congress passed legislation to prohibit online gaming, it granted a special exemption for horseracing.

This year, Americans bet over $130 million in wagers involving the outcome of a single race, the Kentucky Derby. Today, nearly 90 percent of the $11 billion dollars bet annually on horseracing is from off-track wagers permitted by the IHA. Congress should not tolerate doping and cheating in interstate horseracing. But, the record is discouraging. This great sport has reached a terrible level of corruption and exploitation.

In a 2006 federal case involving a thoroughbred trainer with ties to organized crime, a judge ruled that "milk shaking" a horse could constitute wire fraud. Yet this year, thoroughbred racing celebrated a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winning trainer who has racked up numerous medication violations, including 4 for "total carbon dioxide" or "milk shaking".

This year, federal agents raided two tracks in my home state of New Mexico. They arrested trainers with alleged ties to the Sinaloa and Zetas drug cartels. According to a warrant, one of the accused boasted of fixing the 2010 All American Futurity, one of the richest races in the world.

Horseracing used to be the number one spectator sport in America. That's no longer the case. Attendance is down. With the loss of fans comes a loss of revenue. Affecting a $40 billion dollar industry, with 400,000 jobs nationwide. In my home state of New Mexico, horseracing is a $400 million a year industry supporting 10,000 jobs. Jobs are at risk.

Promises of reform have been made, and broken, before. Congress considered legislation in the early 1980s. And industry groups insisted that congressional action was not needed. Well, it was needed then. And over 30 years later, the need has only increased. American horseracing stands apart from the rest of the world. In its permissive medication rules, and in its tolerance for doping.

To tackle these problems affecting this important and historic American industry, Congressman Ed Whitfield and I introduced the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act. Our legislation will do 3 things:

1) Ban race day medication and horses from racing under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs;

2) Kick the cheaters out of the sport after three violations of the rules; and

3) Require drug testing of race horses by independent labs.

Our bill doesn't create any new federal bureaucracy. It keeps responsibility for enforcing these rules with state commissions. In the absence of adequate enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission could enforce doping violations. And could shut down off-track betting.

Time and again, Congress has passed legislation to expand gambling on horse racing. Now it's time to end the abuse. It's time to restore integrity to this sport. The safety of these majestic animals and their jockeys are at stake. So are jobs, in places like New Mexico. Those who play fair in this sport, should no longer be at the mercy, of those who do not.

So, thank you all again for being here. I am hopeful that we can work together. After 30 years of handwringing and talk, it's time for action. It is time to put American horseracing back on the right track.

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