Task Force Discusses KY Drug Testing Lab

Kentucky may obtain its own drug testing laboratory facility.

In response to the horse industry’s cries for more effective ways of regulating racehorse medications, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chairman Robert Beck reported the possibility of the state obtaining its own laboratory facility.

Beck was one of several industry officials that reported the results from their subcommittee discussions during the initial meeting of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s Task Force on the Future of Horse Racing in Lexington Sept. 3. The 12-member task force was formed by Beshear in July.

During a brainstorming meeting, Beck said his committee had begun gathering the necessary financial information for obtaining a Kentucky-based laboratory. The state, which currently sends its samples to Iowa State University for testing, will have an increased need for drug testing with the recent passage of the ban on anabolic steroids in race horses.

Beck's subcommittee also weighed the advantages and disadvantages of having an in-state lab. On a positive note, the lab would allow for a quicker turnaround time on tests and more cooperation between the laboratory and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

“The increase of control would improve because of the increase of cooperation,” Beck explained. “Those synergies would lead to a higher quality and efficiency of testing.”

The laboratory could also become a source of economic development for the state by creating new jobs and increasing capital advantages.

Some of the disadvantages to building a lab included finding the necessary funding and figuring out if such a project would be financially viable to Kentucky, Beck said. He added that The Jockey Club had agreed to provide information that would help project the feasibility of a lab.

Another issue with the lab would be deciphering whether the demand for drug testing is great enough to support the facility, which will cost $10 to $15 million to build, with an annual budget of $5 million.

Beck ticked off a list of other factors that needed to be considered before a decision could be made on the project, including accreditation costs, lab equipment, environmental control issues, waste management, site availability, security requirements, and lab staffing.

During the task force meeting, other reports were given by Nick Nicholson of Keeneland and Ron Geary of Ellis Park, whose subcommittees discussed Kentucky's struggle to remain competitive with purses in other states, its need for maintaining a high quality of racing to increase the quality of its simulcast product, and finding new incentives for breeders to keep their mares and stallions in the state.

Also present at the meeting were Ellen Hesen,Beshear's general counsel, who discussed the need for increased staffing in the KHRC, and Edward Bonnie, who reported how Kentucky would benefit from a permanent system to eliminate the misuse of drugs in racing, and increased security personnel specifically trained on how to regulate pari-mutuel activities.

A full report from the task force is due to Beshear and the General Assembly by Dec. 1. The next meeting of the task force is slated for Sept. 23.