SACRAMENTO, CA - As thoroughbreds competed at Cal Expo on Thursday during opening day of the California State Fair, leaders in the horse racing industry were at the nation's capital debating the use of medications and performance enhancing drugs in race horses.
"I don't think the government can do anything that the horsemen can't do for themselves," Hall of Fame Jockey Russell Baze said. "I don't think we need anybody to step in and clean up our dirty laundry for us. I think we can handle it just fine."
The hearing focused on the use of drugs in race horses, whether illegal or therapeutic, and a solution to stopping improper drug use.
"Horse racing is in crisis. The public perceives racing to be out of control," said Barry Irwin of Team Valor that won the Kentucky Derby last year with Animal Kingdom.
During testimony, Irwin said the federal government can help improve the integrity of the sport.
"For racing to thrive it must give the public enough confidence to place a bet. State commissions must guarantee a sport that is conducted on a level playing field."
As of now, most regulation is handled by state boards. Just last month, the California Horse Racing Board suspended the use of clenbuterol at all state race tracks for a year -- it's a drug that's used for breathing issues.
"You and I need medicine to survive on a daily basis too," said horse owner Burnie Lenau. "There (are) some types of medicine that are necessary that actually help the horse be themselves -- not advance their ability to run but just allow them to run to their capability."
The hearing came nearly a month after I'll Have Another scratched a day before the Belmont Stakes, losing his bid at a Triple Crown victory. Trainer Doug O'Neill said the three-year-old colt was diagnosed with tendonitis.
The New York Times obtained veterinarian records showing I'll Have Another had chronic leg issues during prior races leading up to the Belmont Stakes.
"We need to stop drugging thoroughbred racehorses in order to make them the beast of burden that will carry our industry on its back. We should be celebrating this glorious athlete, not trashing it," said Irwin during his testimony.
Sue Greene, President of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association said there's a misconception that the industry as a whole is "doping" horses because the word "drug" is used instead of therapeutic.
Greene said horses are treated under the supervision of veterinarians at all times.
"We all have the same interests. We all love the animal, we love the sport and we want it to be fair," said Greene.
"We want it to be clean. We certainly don't want the stigma that is now being perceived that we all dope our horses that we don't care about our horses. Yes, there are some bad apples in the gang but as a whole most of the people in our industry love and care very deeply about these horses."