Training Stable, Medical Director Get Drug Council's Push

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council has reaffirmed its support for a 20-horse training stable that will be used to produce samples for drug-testing research, but implementation of the program will wait until the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority approves it and also hires an equine medical director.

The research stable would be funded by the drug council, which would provide about $500,000 a year, and the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which would operate it and spend about $480,000 a year--$40,000 per drug--on testing of primarily blood samples. The purpose is to develop solid threshold levels and withdrawal times for commonly used therapeutic medications.

KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood, during an April 3 drug council meeting, said she recommends first hiring an equine medical director whose duties would include oversight of the training stable. Underwood said there are six to 10 candidates for the position, which she hopes is filled in a few months.

RMTC executive director Dr. Scot Waterman said the training stable would be the first of its kind in the country because of the size of the stable and the extent of the drug testing. Officials would have 20 sets of data on a variety of drugs that would be administered at various times to ensure a range of results.

Horsemen in particular have been hammering on the RMTC to publish withdrawal times and threshold levels for common therapeutics, but officials have said they first want substantive research results. The training stable, Waterman said, is designed to provide that information.

“The design of this is to have so much more data on drugs that has ever been collected before,” Waterman said. “We’ll try to make it as scientifically bullet-proof as possible.”

Drug council chairwoman Connie Whitfield noted opposition, particularly from the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and racetrack veterinarians, slowed adoption of new medication rules several years ago. She suggested getting all horsemen on board for the project.

“If we don’t have buy-ins, it could be similar to the battles we’ve been fighting for the past three years,” Whitfield said.

Trainer John Ward, a member of the drug council, said if the results of training-stable research are considered “pure science,” any group opposed to the project would have to “counter it with pure science.”

Whitfield noted some KHRA members have raised questions about the training stable regarding cost and the need for it. Waterman said it’s doubtful other states would send money to Kentucky to help fund the stable and noted Kentucky may be the only one with a drug council that gets funds earmarked for research each year.

In other business, the drug council approved recommended changes to Standardbred medication rules that will go back to state officials for review. The changes bring harness racing rules more in line with Thoroughbred rules; uniformity within states is one objectives of the RMTC.

The drug council recommended that ketoprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, be added to the list for use by horsemen. One of three NSAIDs--the others are phenylbutazone and flunixin--can be used up to 24 hours before a race.

“It’s a very safe drug approved for horses,” Dr. Andy Roberts, a veterinarian, told the drug council. “It’s commonly used. This would put us consistent with several of the surrounding states (with harness racing), which is the direction the RMTC is headed. And once again, it would be consistent with (Thoroughbred rules) in the state.”

The drug council also recommended penalties for Standardbred medication violations be more in line with Thoroughbred penalties.