As Kentucky prepares to open a major debate on a proposed policy that would allow only Salix on race day, a high-profile trainer who races in major jurisdictions believes in a common-sense approach -- and he also said the industry must realize drugs aren't the only problem.
Meanwhile, another top Kentucky trainer believes race-day therapeutic medication is essential.
Bob Baffert, currently preparing his runners for the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita Park, said the Kentucky policy that allows up to five therapeutic medications on race day may be excessive, but allowing only Salix, a bleeder medication, may not be sufficient in keeping horses healthy for racing.
The issue will be debated Oct. 21 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington. Kentucky Racing Commission chairman Frank Shoop has proposed a Salix-only policy on race day in keeping with a proposal from the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
Baffert primarily races in California, where therapeutics other than Salix are allowed but not on race day.
"I run my horses the same everywhere," Baffert said. "In Kentucky, they have way too many medications, but if I said to keep one, it would be Banamine. This sport isn't seasonal like football or baseball. Horses race year-round. So what do you do? Give them therapeutic medication or inject their joints with cortisone. If it was a seasonal sport, we probably wouldn't need medication."
Baffert said Salix, Bute, and Banamine are acceptable. He said anything more -- or less -- may be extreme. In any event, he said he'd like to see national uniformity.
"If they had Banamine on race day in California, it would be a lot easier on the horses," Baffert said. "If you use anything other than Banamine, Bute, and Salix, you're overdoing it. But if you take all medications away, the cheaters will have an edge."
Baffert noted that Kentucky has few positives, and that most rumors or accusations of trainers using illegal drugs occur in other states. He also suggested money spent on gauging levels of therapeutic medication use could be better spent on uncovering illegal substances.
At one time, Baffert was under the microscope in California amid rumors he wasn't playing by the rules. He took a proactive approach.
"I invited the California Horse Racing Board to come to my barn," Baffert said. "They hung out and nothing changed. If people thought that kind of stuff about me, it would bug me."
Baffert also said breeders and racing surfaces contribute to the problem. He cited surgeries performed on young horses to correct defects, and racing surfaces that put too much stress on horses, as reasons racehorses don't last as long as they should.
"Everybody's a culprit," he said.
Trainer Ken McPeek, during a meeting in Florida in 2002, made similar comments and said medication isn't necessarily the reason many top racehorses have short careers. He also cited the strong desire by breeders and owners to rush horses into stud duty.
Trainer Bernie Flint, who regularly tops the standings in Kentucky by number of wins each year, recently made a case for race-day medication. He said racehorses, like humans, need medication for daily living. Flint said he is an asthmatic, and if he didn't take medication, he'd end up on welfare because he couldn't go to the barn every day to care for and train the animals.
"I'm only concerned for the health and welfare of the horse," Flint said. "Horses have the same ailments as humans. I defy anybody making these rules to deny themselves medication."
Flint also said many lower-level racehorses would be forced to retire if they couldn't use therapeutic medications on race day. That, in turn, would force many people out of the business and leave the animals in jeopardy.
"Hello? Where would these horses be without these people supporting them?" Flint said.
The week of Oct. 13, a group of racetrack practitioners met in Kentucky to discuss various issues. Official details weren't available, but one individual who attended the meeting said the vets were polled and expressed a desire to maintain a race-day therapeutic medication policy in Kentucky.
At least one racetrack vet is expected to make a presentation at the Oct. 21 meeting at Keeneland.
"I'm hoping to get some good comments," Shoop said. "I'm not sure what the fallout is going to be. I've had people endorsing (the Salix-only policy), but imagine there will be quite a bit of controversy. I just want an honest debate to get it out in the open. Let's debate it early."
The national consortium is expected to meet again in November. In December, it is expected to present a proposed model policy to a group of regulators in Tucson, Ariz.