Drug-Rule Changes Said to Impact Turfway Entry Box

More than 3 1/2 inches of rain had absolutely no impact on the new Polytrack at Turfway Park, which opens the evening of Sept. 7, but the impending change in race-day medication regulations for Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky is said to have put a dent in the opening-night entry box.

Turfway carded 10 races for opening night and attracted 75 entries, down from the normal level, track president Bob Elliston said. One of the races, a bottom-level maiden-claiming test for 2-year-olds, has only five horses in the box.

"The people we spoke to who had horses to enter but didn't enter cited the change in medication rules as the reason," Elliston said. "We appreciate the horses we got from Keeneland and Turfway but, to my knowledge, we received no entries (from horsemen based) at the Churchill Downs Training Center or Ellis Park."

Elliston said Hoosier Park, which opened for live racing Sept. 3, didn't play a role in the Turfway situation. The Indiana track, with a minimum $9,000 purse for $4,000 and $5,000 claiming races, has had also-eligibles in just about every race drawn thus far.

The race-day policy that takes effect Sept. 7 in Kentucky allows for the bleeder medication Salix and two of four adjunct bleeder medications up to four hours before a race. It also allows for one of three non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs up to 24 hours before a race. Under the current policy, two NSAIDs can be used up to four hours before a race.

During testimony in Franklin County (Ky) Circuit Court Sept. 1-2, horsemen and veterinarians claimed the key issue is they don't have withdrawal guidelines for therapeutic drugs they have been using on race day. They said they fear positives could be called because of the confusion.

Judge Roger Crittenden denied a motion for a temporary injunction by the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to delay implementation of the regulations. He did, however, support the vets' contention that they couldn't practice under the guidelines because they could be penalized for possessing substances and equipment used to treat sick horses.

"We're going to work with the trainers and vets to transition into the rule," Kentucky Horse Racing Authority executive director Jim Gallagher said after the judge issued his ruling. "We've been talking with vets about developing a withdrawal guideline schedule. But we're not changing the testing regimen being done by Iowa State University."

Elliston said Turfway officials were told of "some uncertainty" over withdrawal times on the part of trainers and vets.

"We've communicated that to the authority," Elliston said. "We were extremely hopeful for a big entry box and didn't get it. Hopefully, some of these issues will be resolved. We rely a lot on horses based at the (Churchill Downs) Trackside Training Center and Ellis Park, and to my knowledge, we didn't get any horses from those locations."

On a positive note, Elliston said the deluge from the remnants of Hurricane Katrina had no effect on the synthetic Polytrack surface that features a state-of-the-art vertical drainage system. On typical dirt surfaces, water drains horizontally and often pools near the inside rail.

"It was incredible," Elliston said. "We had about 3 1/2 inches of rain in 20 hours, and there was absolutely no change to the surface. It was as it was billed--moisture just gets off the surface so fast."

Turfway is the first pari-mutuel track in North America to install Polytrack. Industry and media interest is expected to be rather high opening night and throughout the short late summer/early fall meet.

Elliston said he hopes the KHRA encourages dialogue with trainers on the medication issue.

"They're not complaining about race-day medication matters -- they understand the need for uniformity," Elliston said of horsemen. "Nobody is doing anything to keep the entry box from being filled. I got 75 horses (whose connections) didn't see a problem (with the change in regulations)."

The KHRA is scheduled to meet Sept. 6. The agenda doesn't mention discussion of the Thoroughbred medication regulations.