WASHINGTON (AP) - Big Brown's trainer appears to be a late
scratch for Thursday's House hearing on the safety of thoroughbred
racing, removing the most anticipated witness from Congress' latest
look at sports and steroids.
Rick Dutrow said Wednesday he has had a virus for several days
and did not feel well enough to travel.
"I would go in a minute, but I just don't feel well," Dutrow
said in a telephone interview. "To go down there when I'm not on
top of my game would not be right."
The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection had
been looking forward to hearing from the trainer known for his
candor and for methods that were brought into question after his
star horse's stunning last-place finish at this month's Belmont
Dutrow said he used a legal steroid on Big Brown - although the
last dose was given in April - and the horse also ran the race on a
quarter crack in the left front hoof in a failed attempt to become
the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
"I'm sorry he's not here," said Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky,
the subcommittee's ranking Republican. "We had a lot of questions
The hearing will go on, with much to discuss. An Associated
Press survey last week found that thoroughbred racetracks reported
more than three horse deaths a day in 2007 and 5,000 since 2003.
The impetus for the hearing came when Eight Belles broke down at
the Kentucky Derby last month and was euthanized on the track, well
before the travails of Big Brown at the Belmont.
"I hope that we bring some transparency to the issues
reflecting all of racing," Whitfield said. "It's more than pretty
hats and horses on a sunny day. It has a huge economical impact on
the country, and it has a bad side to it. I think it's important we
get it out on the table."
Whitfield is concerned about the lack of a central body to
regulate the sport. Because there is no horse racing equivalent of
the NFL or NBA - which are led by commissioners with widespread
authority - thoroughbred racing instead makes its regulations
through individual states.
That's why the congressman gave a muted reaction when asked to
comment on the sweeping recommendations made Tuesday by a safety
panel established by North America's thoroughbred registry, the
Jockey Club. The panel called for bans on anabolic steroids and
certain types of horseshoes, as well as the regulation of the use
of the riding crop by jockeys.
"It's encouraging that the Jockey Club has come up with these
recommendations," Whitfield said. "But, sadly, the Jockey Club
doesn't have the authority to do anything."
The witness list includes owners, breeders, veterinarians and
other officials, including Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the
National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Waldrop appeared before
the same subcommittee in February, along with the commissioners and
union chiefs from other sports, in a hearing that examined drug
among professional athletes.
That hearing was only part of a busy year so far for sports on
Capitol Hill. The Mitchell Report prompted several visits to
lawmakers by baseball star Roger Clemens, who then appeared at a
hearing to deny use of steroids. Two of the lead characters in the
NFL's Spygate scandal have met with Sen. Arlen Specter, who has
threatened further Congressional involvement.
A recent Senate hearing examined an international agreement
intended to curb drug use in sports. Allegations from NBA referee
Tim Donaghy have again caught the attention of Illinois Democrat
Bobby Rush's subcommittee, although no new formal action has been
In thoroughbred racing, Congress has leverage because of a
federal law that grants simulcasting rights to states. If the
industry can't find a better way to police itself, Whitfield said
the government might have to intervene.
"It's surprising that so many people are calling for reform,
but they don't want the federal government to be involved in any
way," Whitfield said. "They don't have the authority to do it
themselves. If they really wanted to do it, we could be partners
and make it happen."
In preparation for the hearing, the subcommittee sent
questionnaires to several thoroughbred racing entities. Most
expressed support to some degree for a standardization of rules to
govern horse racing, although there was a wide variety of opinions
as to how to achieve the goal.
The concept of a central governing body has support from both
sides of the subcommittee. Rush, the subcommittee's chairman, is
recovering from surgery and will not attend the hearing, but his
chief of staff, Stanley Watkins, echoed the call for sort of
authority to implement reforms.
"We don't presume it would be a panacea that would cover
everything," Watkins said. "But we certainly have to look at a
central agency to be a part of helping get this industry where it
needs to be."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)