Legislators Back Away From Drug Rules--For Now

A lawsuit filed by the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association over the move to stricter race-day medication rules has led a legislative subcommittee that has tackled the issue to back away--at least for now.

The Kentucky General Assembly's Interim Joint Subcommittee on Licensing and Occupations discussed the medication issue at its last two meetings was expected to do so again Aug. 26. But drug rules weren't on the agenda.

"Because it's in the courts, we're going to stay away from it," said Rep. Denver Butler, who chairs the subcommittee. "But as soon as that's over, there's no telling what will happen."

The Kentucky HBPA filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court in Kentucky to challenge whether the change in medication rules constitutes an emergency. The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority gave the new rules final approval Aug. 15, and Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed emergency regulations to put the plan into effect Sept. 7, opening night of the Turfway Park meet.

The new rules allow for only the bleeder medication Salix and two of four adjunct bleeder medications on race day, or up to four hours before a race. They also allow one non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug up to 24 hours before a race.

Currently, up to five substances are permitted, including NSAIDs on race day.

The Kentucky HBPA contends the changes could create problems for horsemen and veterinarians because there could be confusion over threshold levels and withdrawal times for substances. The organization also said horsemen haven't had ample opportunity to comment on the regulations, though proponents of the new rules noted a new public comment period would begin as the Legislative Research Commission looks over the regulations.

"One thing the vets are saying is they don't have guidelines, so they're afraid to treat horses," Butler said. "They need guidelines."

A group of about 20 vets is said to be ready to file a separate lawsuit over the Kentucky medication issue.