Anne M. Eberhardt

Little Opposition to KY Drug Rule Changes

Horsemen at meeting have little or no opposition to stiffer medication guidelines.

If the tepid response at an Oct. 10 meeting at Keeneland is any indication, horsemen have little or no opposition to stiffer medication guidelines being considered by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

During the meeting conducted by the commission staff, about 30 trainers and veterinarians heard an overview of the most significant changes and were offered an opportunity to ask questions and voice their opinions.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the KHRC equine medical director, noted that the question of whether to ban race-day use of the anti-bleeder medication Salix was not among the recommendations being proposed. She said that although a Salix ban had been recommended by the RCI and endorsed by other major organizations, there has been no effort made to take such action in Kentucky.

While most attending the meeting did not ask questions or provide comments, a few horsemen questioned the need for the new regulations, especially one that would lower the threshold level for phenylbutazone, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, from five micrograms per milliliter of plasma or serum to two micrograms. Phenylbutazone, a pain reliever commonly referred to as Bute, can be administered up to 24 hours before a race in most jurisdictions.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International has approved a model rule calling for the lower Bute threshold and received formal support for the lower threshold from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, The Jockey Club, the Jockeys’ Guild, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Dr. Rick Sams, director of the HFL Sport Science that conducts the Kentucky equine drug testing, said a single dose of Bute administered intravenously 24 hours prior to a race should fall within the permitted levels under the new recommendation.

“The single most important factor that would cause an overage is the administration of phenylbutazone in those days leading up to race day if the lowered threshold level is approved," Sams said.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA affiliate who asked most of the questions posed during the meeting, noted that in most cases a horse is being administered phenylbutazone on an ongoing basis due to physical problems, rather than on race day. As a result, Maline said, the lower threshold level would put a lot of horsemen at risk for a positive test.

“Any of us (trainers) who have (physical) issues (in horses) that were on some sort of medication for a period of time, you are going to give it (phenylbutazone) for a period of time and it would seem like you’re hindering any horse that has it more than one time…as Dr. Sams said, he is going to show up as a positive,” Maline said.

Scollay responded that for supporters of stiffer medication policies, a horse needing that much medication “raises the fundamental question of whether that horse should still be racing. That is a philosophical question I can’t answer for everybody in this room but that is the fundamental question.”

Maline said the Kentucky HBPA affiliate did not go along with the NHBPA’s endorsement of the lower threshold.

Among the other major changes being proposed are eliminating race day adjunct anti-bleeder medications and having Salix administered on race days only by veterinarians working for the racing commission rather than by a trainer’s private vet.

Scollay said withdrawal of adjunct anti-bleeder medications is a result of a lack of scientific support for the use of such medications. She also cited a survey of North American racing jurisdictions showing that, of those responding, Kentucky had the highest incidence rate of epistaxis (bleeding) while also having the most liberal policies with regard to anti-bleeder medications.

The recommendation to have Salix administered, it is perceived by the public to be “an integrity enhancing step…there is a concern about veterinarians being in a horse’s stall on race day,” Scollay said.