Stiff Drug Penalties Await Approval in Kentucky

A hard-hitting, comprehensive schedule of penalties for medication violations--including ones designed to make racehorse owners more accountable--is headed to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority for consideration at its May 16 meeting.

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council has modified the penalties since they were first discussed earlier this year. But they still include lengthy suspensions for the most serious offenses, license revocation, and horse suspensions.

Drug council members, who voted on the schedule May 12, acknowledged it could raise eyebrows in Kentucky and around the country. If approved by the racing authority, the schedule 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.

"We battled it out," council chair and racing authority vice chair Connie Whitfield said. "But it's fair to say we've come to a consensus that what we're proposing is good."

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," said trainer John Ward, a member of the drug council and the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. "Once enacted, it probably will be the strongest deterrent we'll have in racing today to clear the boards. It has absolutely looked at every way a person can get around the issue."

Sen. Damon Thayer, also a member of the drug council, noted the horse suspensions for various offenses are in effect owner suspensions. Race-ready horses wouldn't be able to compete even though training bills would have to be paid.

Said council member Bill Napier: "With the horse penalties, we took into account cases where the trainer is performing an act the owner isn't aware of. He needs to be made aware. There are some owners that, if a horse is performing well, he doesn't care. Once an owner is made aware of a problem, he should take some action to correct it."

The five drug classifications under Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines have been reworked into three categories in Kentucky--Class A, the most serious performance-altering substances; Class B, which are less potent but still could affect performance; and Class C, mainly therapeutic substances used in racehorses.

Class B penalties would apply to violations for the presence of more than one non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug on race day. Though therapeutic in nature, the drugs are believed to have strong effects when mixed, or "stacked," with related substances.

The horse suspensions and license revocations are reserved for most Class B and all Class A 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 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, 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 serious fines and suspensions for the possession of blood-gas machines used for milkshake testing and for possession of shock-wave devices.