Veterinarians have asked the Kentucky Racing Commission to consider changes in regulations that govern use of naso-gastric tubes and the administration of Salix, the diuretic formerly known as Lasix. The practitioners, a few of whom spoke during a commission meeting Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs, said they want to protect the health of horses as well as their ability to do their jobs.
The Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners earlier adopted a resolution that supports Kentucky's regulations on racehorse medication and the use of substances that allow for the humane treatment of animals. On Tuesday, Dr. Roger Murphy, president of the KAEP, targeted pre-race restrictions on use of naso-gastric tubes.
"We have an ethical obligation to treat animals in the best way possible," Murphy said. "Because of some unnecessary bad press or public relations issues, restraints have been put upon us. The overwhelming majority of practitioners have the animals' interests at heart. The commission shouldn't be regulating how we practice medicine."
At issue is a regulation that restricts use of a tube "on any horse entered to race at a Kentucky racing facility." The regulation came about after the practice of "milkshaking" was declared illegal in Thoroughbred racing almost two years ago. Officials, however, said the regulation is subject to interpretation: Does it mean time of entry, which could be up to 72 hours before a race, or on raceday?
"The interpretation has been raceday," commission vice chairman Frank Jones Jr. said.
Though it didn't come up for discussion, Dr. Alex Harthill, president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, was fined $1,000 for use of a naso-gastric tube on a raceday, July 4 at Churchill Downs. A trainer accused Harthill of milkshaking the horse, though a subsequent commission investigation and results of drug tests turned up no violations. Harthill, who paid the fine, said he merely administered electrolytes to a dehydrated animal.
That's the crux of the practitioners' argument: They want to be able to provide treatment when horses need it.
"Not one of them would jeopardize their career at racetracks by doing improprieties," said Murphy, whose specialty is reproductive medicine. "Don't punish people who are following the rules."
Dr. Arnold Pessin addressed the use of anti-hypertensive drugs. Pessin said regulation of Salix "is out of hand. Leave the treatment up to the veterinarians. Get rid of the Keystone Kops."
Pessin said chemists are concerned about the way Salix can dilute urine and affect drug-testing. He said a way to solve that problem is to use a hydrometer to find "specific gravity," a method used to test for the dilution of a substance. If urine isn't diluted, it shouldn't matter when Salix is administered, Pessin said.
Therefore, the regulation that prohibits use of Salix within four hours of a race is faulty, he said. He questioned fining a veterinarian who administers Salix to a horse shortly after the cut-off time if the substance won't skew test results.
After the meeting, Pessin warned against a push from some quarters to mandate that only state veterinarians be permitted to administer Salix.
Dr. Scot Waterman, director of methods and procedures for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force, said that at 1.010, a liquid would be slightly more dense than water. Anything under that number may be too diluted to detect. The argument, he said, comes down to the affect of Salix on urine and the time the medication is administered.
Specific-gravity tests are used in many jurisdictions, including Kentucky.
Bernie Hettel, executive director of the racing commission, said the tubing directive has worked very well. The only problem in almost two years, he said, came on July 4 when trainer Richard Saland accused Harthill of milkshaking Band Is Passing, who competed later that day in the Firecracker Handicap. Other than that, "there haven't been any complications or problems," Hettel said. "It has worked very well."
Hettel said the issue can get complicated. For example, raceday could mean four hours before a race, or 24 hours before a race. Regulations such as the four-hour rule, he said, make enforcement much easier. He cited the example of horses that ship from training centers. If there were no firm time frame, enforcement would be difficult because of a lack of manpower at training centers.
Jones said the commission would consider the concerns of the practitioners and take them under review, but he said the commission's job is to regulate the industry.
In a related matter, the commission's new Equine Medication Review Committee met recently at Keeneland, and will meet again Nov. 19 at Churchill Downs. The committee was formed to help advise the NTRA task force to design a national model for drug testing and use of therapeutic medications in Kentucky.
The Kentucky HBPA has been particularly vocal about protecting Kentucky's medication rules. The NTRA, meanwhile, has said it will not tinker with medication rules in various jurisdictions. Others, though, would like to see uniform medication rules.
"I believe all those things will be discussed, but not all of them will be on the table for change," Jones said. "We just want to make sure the state of Kentucky is in a leadership role."
In other business, racing dates for 2002 were awarded. The calendar will look like this: Turfway Park, Jan. 1-April 4 (65 days); Keeneland, April 5-April 26 (16 days); Churchill Downs, April 27-July 7 (52 days); Ellis Park, July 10-Sept. 2 (41 days); Turfway, Sept. 4-Oct. 3 (22 days); Kentucky Downs, Sept. 14-23 (seven days); Keeneland, Oct. 4-Oct. 26 (17 days); Churchill, Oct. 27-Nov. 30 (30 days); and Turfway, Dec. 1-Dec. 31 (22 days).