A March 14 horsemen's meeting on upcoming equine medication changes in Kentucky revealed some interesting information: The four months of racing at Turfway Park are the "cleanest" in the state according to regular analysis of drug-testing results.
During the meeting at Turfway, Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medication director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, provided an overview of the national uniform model rules on medication and drug testing, which should be in place in Kentucky later this spring. On a few occasions she indicated the changes will have minimal impact on horsemen at Turfway in regard to therapeutic drugs during subsequent meets.
Scollay said results from the HFL Sport Science testing laboratory in Lexington don't register many traces of the bronchodilator clenbuterol in samples taken from Turfway horses. The same goes for corticosteroids, which can be problematic if administration guidelines aren't followed. The therapeutic drugs are regularly administered at some other racetracks.
"It doesn't look like a whole lot of corticosteroids are being used in this horse population," Scollay told Turfway horsemen.
When asked after the meeting about the regular test-result scans, Scollay and KHRC director of racing Marc Guilfoil both said the Turfway meet is the "cleanest." They also acknowledged the perception that racing at more modest levels is believed to be more prone to excessive therapeutic drug use.
"There are few catastrophic breakdowns here," Scollay said of Turfway, which has a synthetic Polytrack surface. "One would think cheaper horses are the reason we have (breakdowns). But with a population of horses at the lower echelon of racing, they have limited ability and physical compromise. Also, purses are lower, and the people that race the horses don't have a lot of money to spend on (extra) vet care."
There are horses at Turfway that race once every week or two, far more than the average for Thoroughbreds.
Scollay said the because of economics, there isn't much claiming activity at Turfway anymore. That could change, of course, should the track be able to substantially boost purses at future meets.
"These people know they are going to have to lead back what they lead over to race," Scollay said. "I think the risk management of horsemen at Turfway has been exceptional. They make appropriate decisions because they need their horses to race to make a living, and they want their horses to last."
Scollay said the larger and more varied horse population at other meets in Kentucky brings more therapeutic medication use—as well as more claiming activity.
"The huge take-home message to me at Turfway is the ability for horsemen to make decisions is there—we just need to incentivize it," Scollay said. "That incentive seems to diminish at other racetracks."