Kentucky Regulators Examine Drug-Testing Procedures

As Churchill Downs prepares to host the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Kentucky regulators are examining the state's drug-testing policies and procedures. Upgrades, however, may hinge on state funding.

For the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup, a full battery of tests will be run on the first four finishers in each race, as well as horses selected randomly by Churchill stewards. Breeders' Cup mandates tests over and above those normally performed in each host jurisdiction.

Breeders' Cup starters will be tested for "milkshakes"--high levels of TCO2--but it will be done randomly. Churchill doesn't draw blood from every starter and have it tested for high TCO2 levels.

"Horses will be tested for milkshakes, but I believe the (Kentucky Horse Racing Authority) indicated it would do it on a random basis rather than test all 104 horses," said Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations. "We just enhance (testing). We ask for a little bit more, and have it in our budget to pay for it."

According to KHRA officials, three horses from each Breeders' Cup race will be selected randomly for TCO2 testing. When milkshake tests began in the spring of 2005 at Keeneland, blood was drawn from every horse; since then, there has been no set policy from meet to meet, officials said.

During the Oct. 30 meeting of the KHRA, questions were raised about testing procedures. There was no TCO2 testing at Ellis Park this summer, reportedly because of a lack of veterinarians, and at Churchill, the lack of a central location for drawing blood is said to be an issue. Earlier this year, the presence of equine herpesvirus at Turfway Park led to a suspension of milkshake testing.

Lisa Underwood, appointed to the post of KHRA executive director about a month ago, said she directed veterinarians and stewards to continue milkshake testing in Kentucky. Underwood, previously counsel for the KHRA, said questions were asked so she requested reports from racing officials on the situation.

At the recent Keeneland meet, testing was performed on all horses in three races each day. On opening day at Churchill, three horses per race were tested. Underwood said she hasn't heard of a push to have every horse tested for TCO2.

Churchill and Keeneland officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said some horsemen believe having blood drawn from every horse in every race can be inconvenient and detrimental to performance when horses are sent to or retained in test barns.

"You can get into a situation where some horses won't put out their best performance when they're put in a different environment," Maline said. "(Milkshakes) to my knowledge haven't been an issue with horsemen in Kentucky. Have we even had a positive here in Kentucky?"

That question is being asked by some regulators; since TCO2 testing began in the spring of 2005, no positives have been announced. Word is circulating that the testing methodology for Thoroughbreds could be flawed in part because blood is shipped by air to the laboratory at Iowa State University and sometimes not tested for several days. Under that scenario, tests for high levels of TCO2 may not be accurate because the blood could lose some of its TCO2 potency, officials contend.

(For Standardbred racing in Kentucky, blood is tested at the racetrack via a device called a "black box.")

"There was talk about changing the methodology," Underwood said of discussion at the KHRA meeting. "It's something that will be reviewed and discussed. That's really a lab issue. For Thoroughbred racing, we still send the specimens off to the lab."

Though medication rules across the country are now uniform or at least very close from state to state, testing policies vary. In California, blood is drawn from every horse; other states opt for random sampling and targeted tests based on intelligence from the racing community.

Funding for drug testing also is an issue in many jurisdictions. California and Pennsylvania, for instance, provide millions of dollars a year for equine drug testing and research, but others do not.

The Ohio State Racing Commission recently received a larger percentage of pari-mutuel handle and purchased blood-analysis machines that are used at each race meet. During harness racing's Little Brown Jug week at the Delaware County Fair, the pre-race tests resulted in seven high TCO2 readings and the scratch of those horses during a five-day meet.

Over the years, discussions in Kentucky have come down to whether the KHRA or racetracks would pay for upgraded testing.

"You can have a mandate, but if you don't have the funding for it, it won't get done," said Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, also an executive with Breeders' Cup. "That's something that probably needs to be pursued. The funds would have to come from the General Assembly through the budget process, but that doesn't happen again until 2008."