Horsemen, Vets Say Drug Policy Could Hinder Entries

Horsemen and veterinarians who are seeking an injunction to stall the tighter race-day medication policy set to take effect Sept. 7, opening night of the Turfway Park meet, indicated uncertainty over aspects of the policy could impact the entry box.

The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and a group of about 15 racetrack practitioners made their case Sept. 1 during a 4 1/2-hour hearing that was continued to the afternoon of Sept. 2 by Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Roger Crittenden. The crux of their argument is that the new regulations don't qualify as an emergency as signed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher, but the hearing delved into the national model medication policy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, threshold levels and withdrawal times, and proposed penalties for infractions.

Earlier this week, horsemen and vets said privately they believe there could be a reluctance to enter horses beginning Sept. 7 because they don't have withdrawal times for some medications, and because the regulations are vague in regard to things they typically carry with them, such as baking soda and stomach tubes, to treat injured or sick horses.

"Without knowledge of when medications can be withdrawn, horsemen and veterinarians will not feel confident in allowing their horses to participate," Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said during testimony at the hearing attended by about 20 horsemen and vets.

"I have for 53 years never had a black mark," testified Dr. Robert Copelan, a racetrack practitioner. "To practice with this regulation would be like walking through a minefield without a map."

When pressed, officials said there is no plan to call for an organized boycott of the entry box.

"I'm not going to boycott in anyway," Copelan said. "I'm speaking for myself. I don't happen to practice at Turfway. But I'm not sure if I was a regular racetrack practitioner at Turfway I wouldn't step aside for that meet, honestly."

The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, the defendant in the lawsuit, made the case that the new medication policy is needed to bring Kentucky in line with many other states. In addition, they said the current policy makes no provision for prohibited practices such as "milkshaking," blood-doping, and shock-wave therapy.

"Basically, we have a rule that's unworkable," testified Jim Gallagher, executive director of the KHRA. "The (current) rule would wind up being more restrictive than what we're proposing. It could be argued even (phenylbutazone) and (Salix) might not be able to be administered on race day."

The new regulations call for use of Salix and two adjunct bleeder medications up to four hours before a race, and one NSAID up to 24 hours before a race. Currently, NSAIDs are among the five substances that can be used up to four hours before a race.

Gallagher also said the horsemen and vets had ample time to participate in developing the policy because the effort began in December 2004 and involved not only the KHRA but the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, as well.

"This wasn't a secret," Gallagher said. "This wasn't just sprung at the 11th hour. Everybody knew what was coming."

Even though the rules are scheduled to take effect Sept. 7, the Legislative Research Commission must review them, and there will be a public comment period.

Neither horsemen nor vets have come out against uniform national rules. In an interview earlier this week, Turfway president Bob Elliston said the racetracks also support uniformity, but said there must be a comfort level with the new regulations.

"We're most interested in seeking open dialogue about what the rules say," Elliston said. "If there are questions about how to interpret certain aspects of the regulations, then I think the authority should be willing to sit down with (horsemen and vets). We all have a common goal of uniform medication."

The KHRA was joined by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders in court Sept. 1. The hearing, expected to conclude Sept. 2, was extended to allow for more testimony.