Kentucky Takes More Time on Drug Penalties

by Tom LaMarra and Leslie Deckard

The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority delayed action May 16 on a hard-hitting, comprehensive schedule of penalties for medication violations--including ones designed to make racehorse owners and veterinarians more accountable.

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council had approved the penalties May 12. But after review by the KHRA Regulatory Committee, the full authority decided to withhold approval until its June meeting.

The changes did little to alter the scope of the document. Most of the penalties suggested by the drug council remain in place. Among the changes are fines for veterinarians for the most serious drug violations.

"It's good we're holding off to have more time to think about this," Connie Whitfield, KHRA vice chair and chair of the drug council, said May 16.

The document includes lengthy suspensions for the most serious offenses, license revocation, and horse suspensions. The penalties when finalized will be combined with a revised race-day medication policy approved earlier this year and sent to Gov. Ernie Fletcher for consideration as an emergency regulation.

The drug council plans to hold meetings around the state to bring licensees up to speed when the penalty schedule is in place. When a new penalty schedule is enacted, all licensees will start with a clean slate, officials said.

The penalties are linked to restrictive new rules for suspended individuals. A trainer whose license has been suspended or revoked wouldn't be permitted to transfer any horses to assistant trainers, employees, or family members.

"This is nothing short of a death penalty we have in college sports," trainer John T. Ward Jr., a member of the drug council and the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said May 12. "Once enacted, it probably will be the strongest deterrent we'll have in racing today to clear the boards."

The drug council has been drawing from the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which has prepared but not yet issued suggested penalties for medication violations. Most jurisdictions, including Kentucky, have fallen in line with the consortium's race-day drug policy, which permits only Salix and one adjunct bleeder medication.

The horse suspensions--which officials said are targeted at owners to make them accountable for their stables--and license revocations are reserved for most Class B (drugs that could impact performance) and all Class A (drugs proven to impact performance) violations. The length of horse suspensions is predicated on the number of projected starts by breed--one per month for Thoroughbreds and one per week for Standardbreds.

The most minor penalty would be a first offense for a Class C, or therapeutic, medication: possible loss of purse, a $250-$500 fine for the trainer, and up to a 10-day suspension for the trainer. The most serious penalty, a third offense for a Class A drug, calls for loss of purse, a $20,000-$50,000 fine for the trainer and vet, revocation of the trainer's license, and a 45- to 240-day suspension for the horse, depending on how many previous violations the owner has had.

There are separate penalty schedules for "milkshake," or TCO2 violations, as well as fines and suspensions for the possession of blood-gas machines used for milkshake testing and for possession of shock-wave devices.