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Officials ask about "state" of racing

4/30/2010

Two U.S. Congressmen have asked the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to provide information relating to medication use and injuries in racehorses, in a reprise of a congressional inquiry conducted two years ago.

Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, sent the letter on Thursday to Alex Waldrop, the president and chief executive officer of the NTRA. In the letter, the two congressmen say that they are seeking to gauge "the current state of horse racing in the United States" and ask Waldrop to respond to nine questions, all of which pertain to uniformity of medication rules, current practices to enforce the rules, and the industry's efforts to collect data on injuries.

"We welcome the scrutiny of the Senate and House Committees and sincerely appreciate their interest in improving the sport of Thoroughbred racing," said Waldrop, in a statement. "We look forward to providing a comprehensive update to Congress and answering any questions it has on the safety and integrity fronts."

The letter states that the two congressmen are seeking the information as representatives of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Two years ago, in the wake of the breakdown of Eight Belles after her second-place finish in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Whitfield called representatives of the racing industry to a hearing in front of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection to answer questions about injuries, breeding practices, and medication rules. During the hearing, lawmakers sharply criticized racing for failing to adhere to a unified set of rules.

Partially in response to the hearing, the NTRA launched the Safety and Integrity Alliance, a voluntary program in which the NTRA accredits tracks that comply with a list of requirements. So far, 16 tracks have been accredited by the alliance, and one, Pimlico, has been provisionally accredited.

The racing industry has also launched a project in the past two years to track injuries at its racetracks, and nearly all U.S. tracks are participating in the project, though results of the study, so far, have been confidential. The Udall-Whitfield letter makes specific reference to the injury database and asks how many "have adopted a transparent database."

The letter follows the broadcast on Wednesday on ESPN of a report examining breakdowns by horses owned by Michael Gill at Penn National Racecourse. It also preceded by two days the running of the Kentucky Derby, the most widely watched horse race in the United States.