Two bills introduced in the Kentucky legislature would permit officials to spend money on drug research pertinent to the horse racing and breeding industries out of state if they so desire. Current statute mandates the money stay at Kentucky research facilities.
The issue has smoldered for more than a year. The Kentucky Equine Drug Council wants the power to determine where state funds should be spent. Supporters of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, where most research is performed, believe any substantial change could threaten the program at the school.
Rep. Tom Burch introduced the two bills Feb. 11-12 in the House of Representatives. They were sent to the House Licensing and Occupations Committee.
One bill specifies the funds--almost $800,000 in 2003--be used in Kentucky unless the drug council and the Kentucky Racing Commission determine the money can be spent more effectively elsewhere. The second bill says the money must be used in the state unless the drug council or the racing commission "identifies a research facility elsewhere that has research capabilities that surpass those that are available in Kentucky."
Some in the industry have privately said the push to spend money out of state is targeted at Dr. Thomas Tobin, the UK pharmacologist who also serves as an advisor to the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Ned Bonnie, a member of the drug council, said that's not the case.
"Research needs to be done in Kentucky, but that doesn't mean consulting can't be done by people from outside the state," Bonnie said in January. "Are we going to say, therefore, that UK has to review itself? Not likely. That would be such a serious conflict of interest that it would be laughable."
The National HBPA, during its winter convention in January, adopted a resolution honoring and supporting Tobin for his work. It apparently stemmed from the action being taken by the Kentucky Equine Drug Council.
The drug council last year hired Dr. Richard Sams of Ohio State University to serve as a consultant. At a drug council meeting Jan. 10, he was instructed to begin a review of the "performance and productivity" of the UK laboratory under Tobin's direction.
As part of the laboratory assessment project, Sams and the committee will review the productivity of the lab from 1997-2002; determine whether lab activities are consistent with the goals of the drug council; evaluate the education, training, and competency of lab staff; examine review procedures for research proposals; and assess whether there are "substantive conflict of interest issues."
During a recent interview, Dr. Peter Timoney, director of the UK College of Veterinary Science, told The Blood-Horse
any legislative change that shifts money away from the school could be problematic. The equine pharmacological program began in 1975.
"In the 27 years Dr. Tobin's program has been in existence, it's fair to say it has been one of the most productive programs in terms of scientific productivity," Timoney said.
Timoney said it is the legislature's prerogative to rule on any statutory changes. But he said if funds "were significantly reduced, then it obviously would result in a downsizing of the existing program and severely compromise its ability to be able to meet the needs of the state's racing industry as determined by the Kentucky Racing Commission and Equine Drug Council in the years ahead."
Timoney also said he and Tobin welcome a review of the school's program "if conducted by an appropriately qualified individual and conducted in an entirely objective, scientifically-based manner."
At its last meeting in January, the racing commission approved of the drug council's endeavor to get the statute changed so the funds could be spent outside of Kentucky if deemed advisable.