"Senator Tom Udall"

Doping Horses

By: Breck Norment, Staff Member 

Our hearts race when a fleet of horses tear down a dirt track while pounding their hooves in a rhythmic dance of speed.  While many of us love horse racing, we tend to get caught up in the madness at the tracks and forget about the welfare of horses.  But it is all too sobering to watch a horse fall during a race, because we know how that horse’s story will likely end.  Only in rare circumstances can injured horses survive, and many are put down before they are removed from the racetrack.    

Approximately 24 horses die each week at American racetracks.[1]  Although many unfortunate events can lead to the injury and ultimate death of a horse during a race, the use of various drugs during race-day could be one of the leading causes of this ever increasing problem.[2]  Some of the drugs given to horses include a substance secreted from the skin of a frog in South America that can numb pain and increase hyperactivity in a horse.[3]  When given to a horse on race-day, this can be a dangerous combination.        

This issue of horse doping dates back to the nineteenth century, but it has been relatively dismissed – until recently.[4]  Legislators and other racing industry figures have begun to push for some type of legislation to combat these dangerous practices.[5] 

Some of the industry’s leaders insist that Congress has the duty to step in with federal legislation to oversee the various types of drugs administered to horses at racetracks.[6]  Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico, who chaired the Senate Commerce Committee hearing, “proposed legislation to ban race-day medication” at racetracks.[7]  Sen. Udall expressed his concern with the use of painkillers and other drugs on horses on race-days.[8]  He explained that injured horses with masked pain continue to “charge down the track” and endanger everything in their path.[9]      

Others argue against federal legislation because they believe the federal government lacks the necessary “experience or expertise in horse racing.”[10]  As such, they argue that a coalition of states should enact a uniform set of rules for horse tracks to follow.[11]     

Perhaps the latter solution would be most favorable, but further federal government action may be required if the horse racing states cannot come to an agreement.  Either way, the sport must have rules designed to avoid these tragic deaths. 

[1] Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara L. Miles, & Griffin Palmer, Death and Disarray at America’s Racetracks - Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys, New York Times (March 24, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/us/death-and-disarray-at-americas-racetracks.html?pagewanted=all.
[2] Id.
[3] Eliana Dockterman, Frog Juice:  Horse Racing’s New Doping Scandal, Time News Feed (June 21, 2012); see also, http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/06/21/frog-juice-horse-racings-new-doping-scandal/; See also Catherine Barrett, “Frog Juice” Has Legislators Hopping Mad, Ky. J. Equine, Agric. & Nat. resources L.Blog, (July 19, 2012), http://www.kjeanrl.com/.
[4] Id.
[5] Frederic J. Frommer, Need for federal oversight of horse racing debated, The Associated Press & Yahoo! Sports (July 12, 2012), http://sports.yahoo.com/news/federal-oversight-horse-racing-debated-183610459--spt.html.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Jerry Bossert, New Mexico Senator pushing to end doping in horse racing, New York Daily News (July 12, 2012), http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/new-mexico-senator-pushing-doping-horse-racing-article-1.1113554.
[9] Id.
[10] See Frommer, supra note 5.
[11] Id.

“Frog Juice” Has Legislators Hopping Mad

By: Catherine Barrett, Staff Member

The most talked about drug in horse racing this summer has been “frog juice,” also known as dermorphin, which is a synthesized version of a substance secreted by the waxy monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagei), a native of South America.[1] More than 30 horses in four states have tested positive for the drug, but the drug’s use may be even more widespread, because many states cannot test for dermorphin.[2]

Dermorphin is a painkiller, 40 times more powerful than morphine, which the frogs secrete to protect their sensitive skin.[3] It joins a long list of powerful painkillers that have been used in racehorses (an imaginative list which also includes cobra venom).[4] When racehorses have been given painkillers – whether the painkillers originated in reptiles, amphibians, or laboratories – the horses do not feel the pain that is supposed to be a natural warning against injury.[5]  The risk that a horse will break down during a race, causing serious injury to the horse and rider, is thus increased.[6] Even a minor injury may disqualify a thoroughbred from a post-racing career if it is exacerbated by running a heavily medicated horse in one last race.[7]

Although federal law regulates other aspects of interstate racing, there are no federal laws or regulations addressing the use of race day medications like “frog juice.”[8] In May of 2011, Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico introduced the “Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011” to address the use of medication in horseracing.[9] If enacted, the bill would ban the use of race day drugs, require that winning horses be tested by accredited labs, and provide stern sanctions for trainers caught violating drug rules.[10] Trainers caught in multiple drug violations would be disqualified from the sport.[11] The Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act of 2011 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.[12] No hearings have been conducted on the legislation, but as of this spring, Congressman Whitfield is still gathering support for its passage.[13] He can be contacted through his website, http://whitfield.house.gov/.

[1] Jeanna Bryner, What is Frog Juice?, LiveScience (June 20, 2012), http://www.livescience.com/21064-frog-juice-racehorse-drugs.html.
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Walt Bogdanich and Rebecca R. Ruiz, Turning to Frogs for Illegal Aid in Horse Races, The New York Times (June 19, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/20/sports/horse-racing-discovers-new-drug-problem-one-linked-to-frogs.html.
[5] Whitfield, Udall Introduce Legislation to End Doping of Racehorses, (May 1, 2011), http://whitfield.house.gov/press-release/whitfield-udall-introduce-legislation-end-doping-race-horses.
[6] Id.
[7] Esther Marr, Protecting Racehorses for Second Careers, The Bloodhorse (June 28, 2010), http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/57661/protecting-racehorses-for-second-careers.
[8] Laura Allen, Fact v. Fiction: Ending Race Horse Doping, Animal Law Coalition (April 7, 2012),  http://www.animallawcoalition.com/horse-slaughter/article/1987
[9] Whitfield, Udall Introduce Legislation to End Doping of Racehorses, (May 1, 2011), http://whitfield.house.gov/press-release/whitfield-udall-introduce-legislation-end-doping-race-horses.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Bill Summary and Status, 112th Congress (2011 – 2012) H.R.1733, The Library of Congress: Thomas (last accessed June 25, 2012) http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:h.r.1733:.
[13] Ray Paulick, Whitfield: Will Work To Pass Horseracing Improvement Act, Paulick Report (March 28, 2012) http://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/whitfield-will-work-to-pass-horseracing-improvement-act/.