Local Interest - By Frank Angst

After reading the names of 19 groups or people who had submitted letters offering opinions on the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 to the subcommittee she chairs, Rep. Janice Schakowsky paused to catch her breath and noted, “There’s a lot of interest in this.”

Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, was winding down a two-hour-plus hearing on the bill Jan. 28 in a crowded room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

After that pause, Schakowsky proceeded to read another 20-plus names.

Those letters offered support or opposition to the Horseracing Integrity Act, bipartisan legislation that would see the United States Anti-Doping Agency form an authority that would include representation from major industry constituencies to regulate medication rules, policies, testing, and sanctions.

If there weren’t enough examples already, the meeting in Washington served as another reminder that the rash of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in 2019 has sparked public concern about horse racing.

“I wasn’t necessarily expecting a full house,” said Schakowsky, a co-sponsor of the bill whose jurisdiction is near Arlington International Racecourse. “There is a lot of interest in this, and I think that’s a great thing. As a former horse owner, I personally care about the well-being of horses, and in horse racing that applies to the jockeys as well. The industry—I think we heard over and over again—that it’s in peril if these issues of the well-being of the horses and jockeys are not addressed.”

While history will note the week in Washington saw the Senate consider the case of Donald Trump—senators listened to the impeached president’s defense team Jan. 28—racing history might one day note the importance of the subcommittee hearing in the Rayburn House. Attendees felt the passion in Room 2322 as a new approach was considered for racing. Terry Finley, president and CEO of Thoroughbred partnership West Point Thoroughbreds, was one of the people who crowded into that room. He senses the public has lost confidence in the status quo.

“I walked out of there, and one of the things I take away is that the public is questioning our stewardship of our business—in particular our horses—in a more glaring way than ever,” he said. “I think that stewardship is key; and that kind of put a pit in my stomach.”

Subcommittee member Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, a Georgia Republican, said the spirited discussion made an impression.

“To be quite honest with you, I wasn’t really looking forward to this (hearing). But as I sat through this hearing, this has been fascinating,” said Carter, a pharmacist who during the hearing raised concerns about the side effects of treating horses with Lasix. “We need to address this. This needs to be addressed.”

The bill’s initial co-sponsors, Rep. Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican, each predicted further progress for HR 1754, with Barr prognosticating the legislation would make it to the House floor where more than half of the representatives have signed on as co-sponsors.

On a related note, one couldn’t help but be impressed with the reach of horse racing. From this single subcommittee and the bill’s original co-sponsors, there were plenty of relationships to racing, beginning with Schakowsky. After the meeting, Schakowsky noted Arlington is an economic driver for that area.

The district of Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, includes Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, and through his questions, he noted challenges that track faces without added gaming money supporting purses. Tonko’s district includes Saratoga Race Course, and Barr’s includes the Thoroughbred breeding farms of Central Kentucky as well as Keeneland; both congressmen noted the economic impact of racing and breeding.

Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat who is an ex-officio member of the subcommittee and chairs the committee above it, Energy and Commerce, noted that the house he grew up in and his current congressional office are both located within walking distance of Monmouth Park. He noted his longtime friendship with witness Dennis Drazin, a horse owner and breeder as well as chairman and CEO of Darby Development—operator of Monmouth. 

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