Kentucky Equine Drug Research Program Suspended

The University of Kentucky's equine drug research program, funded by pari-mutuel handle under the auspices of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, apparently has been suspended indefinitely.

A memorandum obtained by The Blood-Horse indicates the decision was made March 31, but it wasn't immediately known if there is a grace period. The program has worked closely with the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, which hasn't met since last year but is said to still exist.

Scott Smith, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, declined to comment on funding for the program. He said an announcement would be made late in the week of April 5.

LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of the state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, didn't return calls. The racing authority was placed under the cabinet when Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher abolished the Kentucky Racing Commission earlier this year by executive order.

Fletcher has ordered a review of all expenditures, contracts, and obligations of the racing commission. Funds for the research lab are included in the review.

An April 5 memo to faculty in the Department of Veterinary Science said Smith made the decision to suspend the program after discussions with representatives of the racing authority failed to provide assurances the program would be supported in the future.

The college and the authority agreed to suspend the program pending a "full review of its past performance and accomplishments," the memo said. The research program, which regularly received funding from the old commission, is under the direction of Dr. Thomas Tobin.

The state legislature still hasn't approved a bill to make the racing authority official by statute, and if it doesn't, Fletcher may have to issue another executive order to keep the authority intact through the next legislative session.

Last fall, the drug council decided to move forward on two projects and in principal allocated $350,000 toward the research. The drug council's annual budget has been in the $800,000 range.

The old racing commission had paid Tobin directly for his work. Smith and Dr. Nancy Cox, associate dean for research at UK, told the drug council last fall that funds would go from the commission to the UK Research Foundation, which in turn would direct funds to Tobin and other researchers.

When the racing commission was abolished, former Fletcher spokesman Wes Irvin said the drug council wasn't eliminated. In interviews, individuals who sat on the council in 2003 said they didn't know their status.

The governor appoints the nine members of the drug council. The chairman of the drug council is by statute a racing commissioner. Robert Stallings, who has served as chairman of the drug council last year, was not appointed to the new racing authority and therefore no longer is chairman.

Last spring, bills that would have allowed officials to spend money out of state on drug research pertinent to the horse racing and breeding industries were introduced in the legislature. Statute mandates the money stay at Kentucky research facilities.

The issue has smoldered for more than two years. The drug council has sought the power to determine where state funds should be spent. Supporters of the Gluck Equine Research Center, where most research is performed, said any substantial change would threaten the program at the school.

Some in the industry privately said the push to spend money out of state is targeted at Tobin, the UK pharmacologist who also serves as an advisor to the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Ned Bonnie, a member of the drug council last year, said that wasn't the case.