The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council set in motion major changes in the state's medication and drug-testing policies when it voted Feb. 4 to recommend adoption of the model rules devised by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
The drug council voted 7-1 in favor of the model rules. The lone dissenter was Susan Bunning, president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, who argued a decision on policy changes shouldn't be made given what she said was a lack of scientific evidence.
The recommendation now goes to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Should the authority approve--there has been no indication it won't--regulations would be devised for legislative approval.
Kentucky, under policies adopted by the old Kentucky Racing Commission in 1998 and 2002, allows use of multiple therapeutic medications on race day. The model rules call for use of only Salix--the bleeder medication formerly known as Lasix--on race day, and one of three non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs at least 24 hours before a race.
The consortium has taken no position on use of race-day adjunct bleeder medications currently in use in some states in the Mid-Atlantic region and just approved for use in Ohio, which adopted the model rules Jan. 20. Kentucky has opted to use one of four adjunct bleeder medications in conjunction with Salix.
The adjunct bleeder medications would be available for use through the end of 2006. Officials by that time hope to have the results of research that would suggest whether the medications should or shouldn't be used.
Jim Gallagher, executive director of the KHRA, said a survey he performed revealed that 33 of 35 racing states don't allow use of NSAIDs within 24 hours of a race. The two that do are Kentucky and Massachusetts, which allow use of phenylbutazone. Florida allows use of one steroidal medication along with Salix on race day.
"The issue of Kentucky medication has been a topic for many years," said Connie Whitfield, who chairs the drug council and is co-chair of the KHRA. "Given all of the talk devoted to this topic, I think everybody has formed a firm opinion on this issue."
There was little debate on the topic. Bunning said the Kentucky HBPA supports uniformity but couldn't support the race-day changes because it has been unable to obtain research that rejects the use of NSAIDs on race day.
"I'm disappointed this council doesn't have the wherewithal to take a stand and do the research," Bunning said.
Whitfield said Kentucky "is woefully out of step with the nation" in terms of a medication policy. She said Kentucky is the "gold standard" in Thoroughbred racing, and that it's "time for us to correct this one deficiency."
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said the organization has been told it will have a chance to make its case in front of the KHRA before it acts on the drug council's recommendation on medication rules. Maline and Bunning noted the consortium model rules allow use of adjunct bleeder medications on race day pending research, but not NSAIDs.
Kentucky currently operates under a medication policy that never went through the legislative process. Though it remains in place, a state statute says policies adopted by bodies such as a racing commission are "null, void, and unenforceable." The KHRA for that reason alone needs to get legitimate medication regulations on the books.
The council also voted to allow the Standardbred industry to maintain its current medication rules that call for Salix only on race day. Only Phenylbutazone can be used 24 hours out. The harness industry would have the option of adding adjunct bleeder medications if it sees fit.
Drug council members Bill Napier, executive director of the Kentucky Harness Horsemen's Association, and Alan Leavitt, who operates Walnut Hall Stud, said they were concerned the model rules would actually loosen Standardbred medication regulations in Kentucky. Harness horses, through a veterinary exam, must show they qualify for Salix.
In other business, Dr. Woody Asbury resigned from the drug council for personal reasons. Whitfield said a replacement could be named within a month. She also formed four subcommittees that will address other aspects of the model rules: testing, penalties, security, and research.