Eight prominent members of the racing industry, including a track owner and a veterinarian, told a Senate committee Thursday that horse trainers should be barred for life if they are found even once to have used potent performance-enhancing drugs like dermorphin, a frog secretion recently found in racehorses in several states.
Under questioning from Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, all witnesses called for tougher discipline of trainers.
Jeffrey Gural, who runs three harness tracks in New York and New Jersey, said the drug problem could be solved if violators were arrested, not just suspended or fined. “If some of these trainers walked out of the barn in handcuffs, that would be the end of that,” he said.
Another witness, Barry Irwin, chief executive of Team Valor International, which owned the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, said state regulators did not have the expertise to investigate illegal drug use at racetracks and suggested calling in the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help.
“State racing commissions, with few exceptions, do a lousy job of identifying cheaters, investigating them and adjudicating them,” Irwin said. “Reasons include lack of will, lack of sufficient funding, lack of qualified personnel and failure to prevail in court against cheaters. So cheaters cheat, sometimes they get caught, but too many that do wriggle off the hook.”
Irwin said he preferred to buy and breed horses in Europe and other foreign countries, where horses do not race on drugs.
“When it hits you that 24 horses die a week on American racetracks, you’d think if this was happening to human athletes, it would be an outrage,” Udall said after listening to the testimony. “Horse racing has reached a level of corruption and exploitation that has to stop.”
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