Kentucky Horsemen Weigh in on Race-Day Medication

At an Oct. 21 open forum on Kentucky's equine medication policy, nearly everyone agreed the state should be part of a national effort to attain uniformity. However, opinions varied widely when it came to just what that policy should include.

About 70 people attended the meeting held at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington. The forum was initiated by Kentucky Racing Commission chairman Frank Shoop, who suggested the state move to the proposed Salix-only-on-race-day policy the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is expected to recommend in December. Shoop heard from supporters and a good number of dissenters from a group that included owners, breeders, trainers, and veterinarians.

Trainer John Ward spoke in favor of the proposed policy, saying good, solid horsemen will send only healthy horses to the paddock to race. "I find in Kentucky the liberal medication rules are a crutch," he said. "I disagree that a shot of Banamine four hours out is something a good trainer needs. I feel if you can't get that horse right 24 hours out, maybe he shouldn't be in the entry box."

Others disagreed.

"The therapeutic medication we use doesn't move a horse up," said Bernie Flint, one of Kentucky's leading trainers. "It might help an ache or a pain, but performance enhancing? No. We're not trying to take an edge. I agree, we should put more money in testing, but I don't think we should take away the anti-inflammatory drugs. If it's not broke, don't fix it."

"I don't think Lasix can control bleeding on its own," trainer David Banks said. "I think adjunct medication can help Lasix. The (proposed) policy isn't practical day in and day out. I'm hoping the national policy will be more like (the current policy in Kentucky)."

Kentucky rules allow up to five medications on race day, including Salix (formerly known as Lasix); no more than two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), namely phenylbutazone (Butazolidin) and flunixin meclofenamic acid (Banamine), naproxen, or ketoprofen; no more than one steroidal anti-inflammatory agent such as prednisolone, dexamethasone, prednisone, or triamcinolone; and furosemide and aminocaproic acid (amicar), both of which can be used to treat bleeding.

Ken Ramsey, who has many of his horses in training in Kentucky, said he believes some horses do need medication to race.

"If I have a headache, I take an aspirin," Ramsey said. "It doesn't make me run faster, but I can function. I think it's similar with horses. If there are no side effects (of a medication), I'm in favor of using it. I'm certainly not in favor of designer drugs, but minor drugs to me are like coffee, tea, or caffeine."

A number of veterinarians spoke in support of Kentucky's current rules. They emphasized therapeutic medications are used with the best interests of the horse in mind.

"Twenty percent of horses bleed through Lasix," said Dr. Mark Cheney, who advocated allowing additional anti-bleeding medications beyond the bleeder medication. Cheney did say, however, that "there is a good debate that a horse should not have to have Banamine four hours before a race."

"I believe in the medication policies we have right now," Dr. Charlie Ward said. "I also believe in no medication on race day. In a perfect world, we'd all exist without medication, but in this world, racing every three to four weeks, they need medications."

The next open forum is set for Nov. 18 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time at Churchill Downs, where live racing is scheduled to begin Oct. 26.