Udall pushes for national horse racing standards

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall on Monday revived his push for uniform

federal standards aimed at making the horse racing industry safer

following a New York Times investigation into a deadly and

debilitating year – for both horses and jockeys – at tracks in New

Mexico and elsewhere around the country.

Udall, D-N.M., said the newspaper’s findings paint a ”very

disturbing” picture of the industry in the United States and New

Mexico in particular.

”The sport of horse racing which, at its best, showcases the

majestic beauty of this animal and the athleticism of jockeys, has

reached an alarming level of corruption and exploitation,” Udall

said in a statement.

The senator pointed to the need for a federal role in a sport

where problems of doping and countless euthanizations have been

exacerbated by inconsistent regulations at the state level.

The Times’ analysis showed that on average, 24 horses die each

week at racetracks across America. A computer analysis of data from

more than 150,000 races, along with injury reports, drug test

results and interviews, showed an industry mired in a culture of

drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains

far worse than in most of the world.

The Times’ analysis also found that five of the six tracks with

the highest rate of incidents per 1,000 starts last year were in

New Mexico – Ruidoso Downs, Sunland Park, Zia Park, The Downs in

Albuquerque and SunRay Park.

”The Times expose has shined a glaring light on the need for

national standards in a sport that reaps gambling profits, but has

lacked proper oversight for decades,” Udall said.

Udall and Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky

introduced legislation last spring seeking to impose a national ban

on performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing.

Despite voluntary reforms offered by the industry over the

years, Udall said legislation is the ”only viable way” to address

doping problems within the sport.

Under the legislation, any person with three doping violations

would be permanently banned from horse racing. A horse that tests

positive for performance-enhancing drugs three times would receive

a ban of at least two years.

The legislation was first introduced last April. It came three

years after some in the industry urged the federal government to

get involved, following the death of Eight Belles at the 2008

Kentucky Derby.

A drug test proved that the horse was clear of steroids, but the

incident helped shine a light on safety problems and the lack of a

single governing body. Rick Dutrow, trainer of the Derby winner Big

Brown, acknowledged he regularly injected the horse with the

then-legal steroid stanozolol.

Most states have banned steroids, but enforcement has been

uneven.

In New Mexico, the state Racing Commission recently imposed a

yearlong ban on clenbuterol for thoroughbreds and quarter horses.

Clenbuterol’s use picked up as a means to help horses build muscle

after the industry did away with anabolic steroids in 2008. High

doses can have adverse effects and even cause death.

But there are plenty of other medications and concoctions that

are used, and the Times’ investigation accused New Mexico’s tracks

and regulators of being unusually slow in responding to safety

alarms.

Vince Mares, the director of the commission, did tell The Times

that the previous leadership at the commission had cut back on

tests for one pain medication due to financial reasons and that his

agency needs more uniform penalties to avoid charges of favoritism

among trainers.

”There is an issue of consistency – you can quote me on this,”

Mares said. ”It is being addressed.”

New Mexico’s 2012 season begins April 20 at SunRay Park and

Casino in Farmington.

Thousands of races are held each season in New Mexico, where

tracks operate anywhere from 42 days to more than two months. Blood

and urine samples are taken from the winner and a randomly chosen

horse from each race to ensure the state’s doping rules are being

followed.

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