Kentucky Authority Wants Equine Medical Director

The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority has on its wish list the position of equine medical director, funding for which would come from the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council.

The KHRA discussed the position during its Feb. 20 meeting along with the addition of nine other positions should state funding become available. A recent state audit suggested the authority needs funding and more staff to efficiently carry out its duties.

Drug council chair Connie Whitfield, also vice chair of the KHRA, said money the council gets from the state each year would pay the equine medical director’s salary.

“The equine drug council needs to vote to have an equine medical director,” Whitfield said. “It’s essentially based on the job (Dr. Rick Arthur) has in California. The position would be paid for with equine drug council funds.”

Arthur, the California Horse Racing Board equine medical director, is involved in everything from virus outbreaks to drug testing.

KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood said drug council funds could be used to hire an equine medical director as long as the position is based in Kentucky. In discussions dating back to the old Kentucky Racing Commission, questions were raised when the previous drug council attempted to use its state money to fund out-of-state projects.

As for the other KHRA positions, Gov. Ernie Fletcher has recommended the state legislature approve $1.2 million in additional funding for the authority. Fletcher has spoken the Appropriations and Revenue Committee of both the House and Senate in an effort to win approval.

Whitfield, meanwhile, said the KHRA at its March meeting could be presented with the drug council’s plan to operate a 20-horse research stable in conjunction with the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Horses in the stable would be used for research that would help determine threshold levels and withdrawal times for therapeutic medications.

In a report to the KHRA on Polytrack, Turfway Park president Bob Elliston provided an update on how extremely cold temperatures and ice affected the synthetic surface. He said even though the recent warm-up got the surface back in shape, officials continue to study Polytrack to find out what causes stickiness and a balling-up of the material.

“We’re trying to distinguish fact from supposition,” Elliston said. “I want to find out what’s causing this.”

As reported earlier, there have been two catastrophic breakdowns during training hours and two in races since Jan. 1. Last year, when the weather was much milder, there were none. In 2005, with the old dirt surface in place, there were 13 in January and February.

“I’d like to have zero, but it’s unreasonable to expect zero every race meet,” Elliston said.

Complaints about “kickback” of the surface and slow times led to a resurfacing of Turfway’s Polytrack last summer. Horsemen have since said the original composition was better on the horses, so more changes have been made.

“Speed is irrelevant to me,” Elliston said. “As long as the surface is safe, I don’t care if they go in 1:14 (for six furlongs) instead of 1:09 and change.”

Based on recent races, the surface is a second or two slower than it was in December 2006 and early January of this year. Final times are relative to either the quality of the field or the early pace of a race.