The Kentucky Racing Commission has decided to form a committee to explore the testing of horses on days they're not scheduled to race. The decision stems from an earlier classification of erythropoeitin and the process of blood-doping as a prohibited practice.
At the request of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council, the commission voted Jan. 15, though not unanimously, to pursue the matter. Chairman Frank Shoop said he would seek out "industry leaders" to assist the committee.
The issue of out-of-competition testing could very well serve as a gauge of just how serious the industry is maintaining integrity in regard to racehorse medication. Owners and trainers in effect could be asked to surrender some rights to facilitate testing other than on race days.
Out-of-competition testing has sprung up from use of EPO and other related blood-doping substances. Because the drug is administered on a schedule, testing would be done at random and not necessarily on race days. There are no provisions in Kentucky for such testing.
Commissioner Richard Klein voted against formation of the committee. Klein, a prominent Thoroughbred owner based in Louisville, said after the meeting the focus should be on horses that compete with illegal substances in their systems on race days.
"Horses are no different that athletes, and they need some sort of medication," Klein said. "Horses get sick, and they need to be treated. Are you going to tell me all those horse farms don't treat horses when there is a sickness or ailment?"
Ned Bonnie, a member of the drug council, surveyed racetracks and horsemen on out-of-competition testing. Concerns range from legal ramifications to whether security personnel would even be able to identify EPO. In addition, a key question is whether owners and trainers would sign stall applications or stakes nominations that mandate they be subject to out-of-competition testing.
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said his board would address the issue and seek input from member horsemen. Maline said the logistics of testing horses given all the ship-ins in the state are difficult.
"We recognize it's an overwhelming task, but we want the commission to appoint a committee that can work with the racetracks," said Robert Stallings, a racing commissioner and chairman of the drug council.
Officials already said funding and personnel on the state level are obstacles. It remains to be seen if racetracks would support out-of-competition testing, but Keeneland has said it would add a test for EPO, when one is available, at its own expense.
The commission also approved a drug council request to pursue statutory changes that would allow it to pay for research done outside of Kentucky. Dr. Rick Sams of Ohio State University continues to serve as a consultant, but hasn't been paid for his services.