In run-up to Kentucky Derby, committee to examine drug use in horse racing

Even Congress will be marking the Kentucky Derby, in its own way.

Next Monday, five days before the United States's biggest annual horse race, a House health subcommittee will examine the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport.

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"Horse racing is a $40 billion industry that generates roughly 400,000 domestic jobs nationwide," a hearing notice stated.

"Many question whether the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs on race day is threatening the viability, safety and integrity of the sport." 

American horse racing is "as steeped in tradition as in its drug use," according to the International Fund for Horses. 

The hearing comes as Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) renew their push for more federal regulation of the industry — a move opposed by most racing organizations.

"For too long, the safety of jockeys and equine athletes has been neglected for the pursuit of racing profits," Whitfield told the Daily Racing Forum in March.

"The doping of injured horses and forcing them to compete is deplorable and must be stopped," he said.

He added that "voluntary meaningful action and oversight" are not likely, in spite of promises from the racing industry.

Whitfield is a member of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health, which will hold the hearing April 30.

His bill (H.R. 1733), introduced last May, and Udall's companion proposal in the Senate (S. 886), aim "to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing."

The issue last received attention from a congressional committee in 2008.

The hearing will be held in Kennett Square, Pa., in the district of subcommittee chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.).

While witnesses have not been announced, thoroughbred owners and breeders Roy and Gretchen Jackson and George Strawbridge are expected to testify, according to BloodHorse.com.