On Thursday morning, some of the more notable names in the Thoroughbred industry will try to answer questions regarding the welfare of their athletes.
But on the eve of a congressional subcommittee hearing on Thoroughbred racing, some are questioning whether the witness list assembled to speak on behalf of the sport is truly comprehensive.
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While a dozen members of the racing industry are scheduled to speak during the hearing Thursday, the lack of representation from the National Horsemen's Benevolence and Protective Association, along with other prominent figures, has raised a couple of eyebrows.
“I don't think anyone from the HBPA was invited, and that concerns me,” trainer Ken McPeek said. “What bothers me is a lot of the decision makers on this have never been in the arena. The trainers and the horsemen are the ones who understand the dynamics of all this.”
“It's a very interesting group,” said Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm and chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. “Why would you pick someone like Dick Dutrow when you have people like a Richard Mandella, like Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin and Bill Mott? These are trainers that have demonstrated over the years their ethics and their wisdom.”
But Dutrow, Big Brown's trainer, appears to be a late scratch, removing the most anticipated witness. Dutrow said Wednesday he has had a virus for several days and did not feel well enough to travel.
Jack Van Berg, Hall of Fame trainer of Alysheba, is the only other trainer scheduled to testify.
The hearing, which will examine issues such as medication and track surfaces, was requested by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., in the wake of the recent high-profile deaths of Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles and 2006 Derby winner Barbaro.
Although few debate the need for a national forum, there is concern that Thursday's hearing will be more knee-jerk in nature than productive.
“What I have a concern with is the motivation for this hearing,” Casner said. “Is it altruistic, or is it opportunistic? If it's altruistic, I'm all for it. If it's opportunistic, I have grave concerns.”
Thursday's hearing comes two days after the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee released its recommendations to eliminate steroids in racing and training, ban toe grabs and enact a series of whip reforms by the end of the year.
Considering horse racing has no governing body to enforce such regulations, not everyone is confident that all 38 racing jurisdictions will adopt the same guidelines without some kind of government intervention.
e_SDLqThe way I see it, we can't get anything done here because we have all these fiefdoms, most noticeably the different states with all different racing commissions, and they all have their own agendas,” Stone Farm owner Arthur Hancock, who will speak at Thursday's hearing, said during an interview with the Herald-Leader this winter. “The only hope we have of getting anything done is through the federal government; that's my opinion.”
Still, others say the racing industry is capable of effectively regulating itself through some creative measures.
“I think you certainly need teeth to make change, and my opinion is, I think the American Graded Stakes Committee needs to take a stance on medication in graded stakes,” McPeek said. “If different states and tracks can't adopt medication-free racing, then their top races should lose their grading.
“If you start taking graded-stakes status away, tracks will push the states to bend to the model rules.”